, Volume 159, Issue 1, pp 127–137 | Cite as

Host plant preference and performance of the sibling species of butterflies Leptidea sinapis and Leptidea reali: a test of the trade-off hypothesis for food specialisation

  • Magne Friberg
  • Christer Wiklund
Plant-Animal Interactions - Original Paper


A large proportion of phytophagous insect species are specialised on one or a few host plants, and female host plant preference is predicted to be tightly linked to high larval survival and performance on the preferred plant(s). Specialisation is likely favoured by selection under stable circumstances, since different host plant species are likely to differ in suitability—a pattern usually explained by the “trade-off hypothesis”, which posits that increased performance on a given plant comes at a cost of decreased performance on other plants. Host plant specialisation is also ascribed an important role in host shift speciation, where different incipient species specialise on different host plants. Hence, it is important to determine the role of host plants when studying species divergence and niche partitioning between closely related species, such as the butterfly species pair Leptidea sinapis and Leptidea reali. In Sweden, Leptidea sinapis is a habitat generalist, appearing in both forests and meadows, whereas Leptidea reali is specialised on meadows. Here, we study the female preference and larval survival and performance in terms of growth rate, pupal weight and development time on the seven most-utilised host plants. Both species showed similar host plant rank orders, and larvae survived and performed equally well on most plants with the exceptions of two rarely utilised forest plants. We therefore conclude that differences in preference or performance on plants from the two habitats do not drive, or maintain, niche separation, and we argue that the results of this study do not support the trade-off hypothesis for host plant specialisation, since the host plant generalist Leptidea sinapis survived and performed as well on the most preferred meadow host plant Lathyrus pratensis as did Leptidea reali although the generalist species also includes other plants in its host range.


Diapause/direct development Generalism/specialism Habitat Host plant shifts Species divergence 



We thank Martin Bergman and Martin Olofsson for assistance during the laboratory experiments, and for discussion and input on an earlier draft of this manuscript, and Helena Larsdotter Mellström and Didrik Vanhoenacker for useful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This study complies with the current laws of Sweden and was financed by a grant from the Swedish Research Council to C.W.

Supplementary material

442_2008_1206_MOESM1_ESM.doc (254 kb)
Supplementary material (254 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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