, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 89-102

Phenotypic variation in invasive and biocontrol populations of the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis

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Abstract

Despite numerous releases for biological control purposes during more than 20 years in Europe, Harmonia axyridis failed to become established until the beginning of the 21st century. Its status as invasive alien species is now widely recognised. Theory suggests that invasive populations should evolve toward greater phenotypic plasticity because they encounter differing environments during the invasion process. On the contrary, populations used for biological control have been maintained under artificial rearing conditions for many generations; they are hence expected to become specialised on a narrow range of environments and show lower phenotypic plasticity. Here we compared phenotypic traits and the extent of adaptive phenotypic plasticity in two invasive populations and two populations commercialized for biological control by (i) measuring six phenotypic traits related to fitness (eggs hatching rate, larval survival rate, development time, sex ratio, fecundity over 6 weeks and survival time of starving adults) at three temperatures (18, 24 and 30°C), (ii) recording the survival rate and quiescence aggregation behaviour when exposed to low temperatures (5, 10 and 15°C), and (iii) studying the cannibalistic behaviour of populations in the absence of food. Invasive and biocontrol populations displayed significantly different responses to temperature variation for a composite fitness index computed from the traits measured at 18, 24 and 30°C, but not for any of those traits considered independently. The plasticity measured on the same fitness index was higher in the two invasive populations, but this difference was not statistically significant. On the other hand, invasive populations displayed significantly higher survival and higher phenotypic plasticity when entering into quiescence at low temperatures. In addition, one invasive population displayed a singular cannibalistic behaviour. Our results hence only partly support the expectation of increased adaptive phenotypic plasticity of European invasive populations of H. axyridis, and stress the importance of the choice of the environmental parameters to be manipulated for assessing phenotypic plasticity variation among populations.