, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 551–561 | Cite as

Host range evolution is not driven by the optimization of larval performance: the case of Lycaeides melissa (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) and the colonization of alfalfa

  • Matthew L. ForisterEmail author
  • Chris C. Nice
  • James A. Fordyce
  • Zachariah Gompert
Plant-Animal Interactions - Original Paper


Herbivorous insects that have recently incorporated novel hosts into their diet provide unique opportunities for understanding factors that promote or constrain the evolution of niche breadth. Lycaeides melissa has colonized both cultivated and feral alfalfa (Medicago sativa) throughout much of North America within the past 200 years. We investigated the quality of the novel host as a resource for juvenile development, and asked if the novel host is a preferred host for oviposition relative to a native host (Astragalus canadensis). Larval-performance and oviposition-preference were examined using L. melissa individuals from a population associated with both M. sativa and A. canadensis, and oviposition-preference was also examined in another population associated exclusively with M. sativa. In addition, we investigated the effects of M. sativa and A. canadensis flowers on both preference and performance. Only one of the hosts, M. sativa, has flowers that are accessible to nectaring butterflies, and we hypothesized that the presence of flowers could affect female behavior. We find that the novel host is a relatively poor larval resource: adults that were reared as larvae on M. sativa were roughly one-third the size of adults that were reared on the native host, A. canadensis. The native host, Astragalus canadensis, is the preferred host in choice experiments involving only foliage. However, when flowers were included in preference assays, the native and novel hosts received similar numbers of eggs. Thus, the presence of flowers on hosts in the field might influence the utilization of a novel and inferior larval resource. These results are consistent with a model in which host shifts are driven by adult behavior that does not directly optimize larval performance.


Niche breadth Niche shift Preference Performance Specialization 



We would like to thank Akiko Endo and Hiroaki Zama for their assistance in rearing larvae. Thanks to Arthur Shapiro for pointing us towards the study location. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. This work was supported by the University of Nevada, Reno. This study complied with the laws and regulations of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew L. Forister
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chris C. Nice
    • 2
  • James A. Fordyce
    • 3
  • Zachariah Gompert
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biology/MS 314University of NevadaRenoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Population and Conservation Biology ProgramTexas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Botany, Program in EcologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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