Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 137–146 | Cite as

Butterfly host plant range: an example of plasticity as a promoter of speciation?

Original Paper


Mary Jane West-Eberhard has suggested that plasticity may be of primary importance in promoting evolutionary innovation and diversification. Here, we explore the possibility that the diversification of phytophagous insects may have occurred through such a process, using examples from nymphalid butterflies. We discuss the ways in which host plant range is connected to plasticity and present our interpretation of how West-Eberhard’s scenario may result in speciation driven by plasticity in host utilization. We then review some of the evidence that diversity of plant utilization has driven the diversification of phytophagous insects and finally discuss whether this suggests a role for plasticity-driven speciation. We find a close conceptual connection between our theory that the diversification of phytophagous insects has been driven by oscillations in host range, and our personal interpretation of the most efficient way in which West-Eberhard’s theory could account for plasticity-driven speciation. A major unresolved issue is the extent to which a wide host plant range is due to adaptive plasticity with dedicated modules of genetic machinery for utilizing different plants.


Butterflies Insects Polygonia Host plants Development Phenotypic accommodation Genetic accommodation Niche Resource use 



We thank Erik Svensson, David Pfennig and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments which improved the presentation. This research was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council to S.N.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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