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Keywords:

  • Diet breadth;
  • geographic range;
  • independent contrasts;
  • oscillation hypothesis

The study of host shifts by herbivorous insects has played an important role in evolutionary biology, contributing to research in coevolution, ecological speciation, and adaptive radiation. As invasive plants become more abundant in many ecosystems, the potential for exotic host use by native insects increases. Graves and Shapiro (2003) have documented exotic host use by 34% of Californian butterflies, suggesting that the plants and butterflies of California might be an important model system for the colonization and utilization of novel resources. In this study, we analyze relationships among geographic range, native diet breadth, and the use of exotic hosts by Californian butterflies and skippers (Lepidoptera). Geographic range and, to a lesser extent, native diet breadth are significant predictors of exotic host use, with positive relationships found both before and after phylogenetic correction. These results give insight into the process of insect host range evolution, as geographically widespread generalists have an apparently greater tendency to use novel, exotic hosts than geographically constrained specialists. Increasing occurrences of exotic host use are expected and those species not capable of shifting to nonnative hosts are likely to have higher vulnerability to extirpation and extinction in the future.