Dynamics of host plant use and species diversity in Polygonia butterflies (Nymphalidae)


Elisabet Weingartner, Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Tel.: +46 8 164047; fax: +46 8 167715;
e-mail: elisabet.weingartner@zoologi.su.se


The ability of insects to utilize different host plants has been suggested to be a dynamic and transient phase. During or after this phase, species can shift to novel host plants or respecialize on ancestral ones. Expanding the range of host plants might also be a factor leading to higher levels of net speciation rates. In this paper, we have studied the possible importance of host plant range for diversification in the genus Polygonia (Nymphalidae, Nymphalini). We have compared species richness between sistergroups in order to find out if there are any differences in number of species between clades including species that utilize only the ancestral host plants (‘urticalean rosids’) and their sisterclades with a broader (or in some cases potentially broader) host plant repertoire. Four comparisons could be made, and although these are not all phylogenetically or statistically independent, all showed clades including butterfly species using other or additional host plants than the urticalean rosids to be more species-rich than their sisterclade restricted to the ancestral host plants. These results are consistent with the theory that expansions in host plant range are involved in the process of diversification in butterflies and other phytophagous insects, in line with the general theory that plasticity may drive speciation.