Evolution of larval food plant associations in Delias Hübner butterflies (Lepidoptera: Pieridae)


Michael F. Braby, Biodiversity Conservation Division, Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia. Email: michael.braby@nt.gov.au


A review of larval food plants of the genus Delias is presented. Larvae specialize primarily on aerial-stem and root hemiparasites (“mistletoes”) in the order Santalales. Although butterfly food plant associations have been recorded for only a small proportion of the genus (28 species or 11%, representing 12/24 species-groups), available data suggest that the family Loranthaceae is used most frequently (77%), followed by the Santalaceae sensu stricto (14%) and Viscaceae (8%). With the possible exception of Euphorbiaceae (1%), almost all non-mistletoe records are considered to be erroneous and, in most cases, probably represent the mistletoe host tree on which the larvae sometimes pupate. Of the eight major clades recognized in Delias, food plants have been recorded for six of these, although the majority of records (89%) are for three clades (hyparete, belladonna, nigrina). Optimization of the larval food plant data in the context of recent phylogenetic hypotheses for both butterflies and plants revealed little evidence of cospeciation at the higher systematic levels. The most parsimonious reconstruction was an origin of larval feeding on Loranthaceae, followed by at least six independent colonizations to Santalaceae + Viscaceae. In contrast to related pierids in the Aporiina associated with mistletoes in which further shifts from aerial-stem mistletoes to distantly related plants (e.g. host trees parasitized by mistletoes) have facilitated differentiation at the generic level, there is no firm evidence to indicate that such secondary, monomorphic shifts have evolved in Delias. However, larvae of D. henningia (pasithoe group of belladonna clade) from Palawan and Luzon, the Philippines, appear to be polymorphic, feeding on both Loranthaceae and Euphorbiaceae.