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Data from: Unravelling the role of host plant expansion in the diversification of a Neotropical butterfly genus

Cite this dataset

McClure, Melanie; Elias, Marianne (2016). Data from: Unravelling the role of host plant expansion in the diversification of a Neotropical butterfly genus [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background: Understanding the processes underlying diversification is a central question in evolutionary biology. For butterflies, access to new host plants provides opportunities for adaptive speciation. On the one hand, locally abundant host species can generate ecologically significant selection pressure. But a diversity of host plant species within the geographic range of each population and/or species might also eliminate any advantage conferred by specialization. This paper focuses on four Melinaea species, which are oligophagous on the family Solanaceae: M. menophilus, M. satevis, M. marsaeus, and finally, M. mothone. We examined both female preference and larval performance on two host plant species that commonly occur in this butterfly’s native range, Juanulloa parasitica and Trianaea speciosa, to determine whether the different Melinaea species show evidence of local adaptation. Result: In choice experiments, M. mothone females used both host plants for oviposition, whereas all other species used J. parasitica almost exclusively. In no choice experiment, M. mothone was the only species that readily accepted T. speciosa as a larval host plant. Larval survival was highest on J. parasitica (82.0 % vs. 60.9 %) and development took longer on T. speciosa (14.12 days vs. 13.35 days), except for M. mothone, which did equally well on both host plants. For all species, average pupal weight was highest on J. parasitica (450.66 mg vs. 420.01 mg), although this difference was least apparent in M. mothone. Conclusion: We did not find that coexisting species of Melinaea partition host plant resources as expected if speciation is primarily driven by host plant divergence. Although M. mothone shows evidence of local adaptation to a novel host plant, T. speciosa, which co-occurs, it does not preferentially lay more eggs on or perform better on this host plant than on host plants used by other Melinaea species and not present in its distributional range. It is likely that diversification in this genus is driven by co-occurring Müllerian mimics and the resulting predation pressure, although this is also likely made possible by greater niche diversity as a consequence of plasticity for potential hosts.

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