, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 62-74

Diet divergence in two sympatric congeneric butterflies: Community or species level phenomenon?

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Two species ofEuphydryas butterflies were studied in California, USA, and showed considerable diet overlap at the species level. They utilize many of the same plant genera for oviposition. However,E. editha is less likely to use woody perennials than isE. chalcedona.

Both butterfly species are known to specialize on different host plants in different populations, so species level divergence may not be a good predictor of community level divergence. Within five communities,E. editha andE. chalcedona showed no dietary overlap. A major component of the niche ofE. editha in one community was occupied byE. chalcedona in a second community, even though both butterfly species occupied both communities. These resource use patterns indicate that community level interactions may affect diet divergence. The degree to which divergence within communities is greater (or less) than expected from a species level comparison may be used to provide a measure of community organization. Equations are given in the Appendix for calculating overlap probabilities from presence/absence types of data; in this study, presence is oviposition on a particular plant species, absence is no oviposition on that plant species. Given the various assumptions of the model,E. editha andE. chalcedona show significant community level components of their dietary divergence in the areas studied. However, in some other communitiesE. editha andE. chalcedona do share host plant species. Therefore, we could not demonstrate community level divergence conclusively, nor has this been demonstrated for any other pair of insect herbivore species. We do not know whether this is because the phenomenon is truly rare or just very hard to demonstrate.