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Keywords:

  • Ecological speciation;
  • Eurosta solidaginis;
  • Extrinsic isolation;
  • host race;
  • hybrid zone;
  • intrinsic isolation;
  • Solidago altissima;
  • Solidago gigantea

Extrinsic, host-associated environmental factors may influence postmating isolation between herbivorous insect populations and represent a fundamentally ecological cause of speciation. We investigated this issue in experiments on hybrids between the host races of Eurosta solidaginis, a fly that induces galls on the goldenrods Solidago altissima and S. gigantea. To do so, we measured the performance of parental host races and their hybrids on five genotypes of S. gigantea and nine genotypes of S. altissima to test hypotheses about how variation in plant genotype affects performance (i.e., fitness) and potentially influences gene flow between these host races. We found that rates of gall induction and of survival to adult emergence by hybrid larvae were significantly lower than those of both parental host races on both host species, adding support to the hypothesis that there is partial postmating isolation between the host races. Hybrid flies significantly varied in their performance across plant genotypes of both host species. A significant interaction between the effects of plant genotype and mating treatment (parental vs. hybrid crosses) on larval performance indicated that the relative suitability of particular plant genotypes differed between the parental host races and their hybrids. These patterns illustrate a poor correspondence between optimal parental and hybrid environments, consistent with the hypothesis that these host races are partially isolated due to extrinsic (ecological) factors. Based on these findings, we discuss the possibility that plant genotypes in which hybrid performance is high can facilitate hybridization and gene flow between partially reproductively isolated populations of herbivorous insects, thus affecting the dynamics of ecological speciation.