PLoS ONE (Jan 2012)

Host plant adaptation in Drosophila mettleri populations.

  • Sergio Castrezana,
  • Jeremy M Bono

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 4
p. e34008


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The process of local adaptation creates diversity among allopatric populations, and may eventually lead to speciation. Plant-feeding insect populations that specialize on different host species provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate the causes of ecological specialization and the subsequent consequences for diversity. In this study, we used geographically separated Drosophila mettleri populations that specialize on different host cacti to examine oviposition preference for and larval performance on an array of natural and non-natural hosts (eight total). We found evidence of local adaptation in performance on saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) for populations that are typically associated with this host, and to chemically divergent prickly pear species (Opuntia spp.) in a genetically isolated population on Santa Catalina Island. Moreover, each population exhibited reduced performance on the alternative host. This finding is consistent with trade-offs associated with adaptation to these chemically divergent hosts, although we also discuss alternative explanations for this pattern. For oviposition preference, Santa Catalina Island flies were more likely to oviposit on some prickly pear species, but all populations readily laid eggs on saguaro. Experiments with non-natural hosts suggest that factors such as ecological opportunity may play a more important role than host plant chemistry in explaining the lack of natural associations with some hosts.