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Variation in the ability of larvae of phytophagous insects to develop on evolutionarily unfamiliar plants: a study with gypsy moth Lymantria dispar and Eucalyptus

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• By examining variation in the abilities of polyphagous insects to develop on host plants with secondary metabolites that they have never encountered previously, we may be able to gain some insights into the nature of evolution of biochemical mechanisms to process plant secondary metabolites by phytophagous insects.

• The present study aimed to examine variation in the ability of gypsy moth larvae Lymantria dispar (Lymantriidae) to complete development on different species of the plant genus Eucalyptus (Myrtaceae). Leaves of at least some Eucalyptus species contain formylated phloroglucinol derivatives. These are secondary metabolites that are evolutionarily unfamiliar to the gypsy moth.

• Larvae of gypsy moth showed extremely variable responses in larval performance between Eucalyptus species, between individual trees within host plant species, between moth populations, and between individuals within moth populations.

• Larval survivorship was in the range 0–94%, depending on the host. Failure of at least some larvae to complete development on some Eucalyptus species indicates that gypsy moth larvae have a limited ability to process secondary metabolites in eucalypt leaves.

• At least some individuals, however, appear to already possess biochemical mechanisms that process the secondary metabolites in leaves of Eucalyptus species, and therefore the abilities of larvae to complete development on phylogenetically and chemically unfamiliar hosts are already present before the gypsy moth encounters these potential hosts.
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Keywords: Between-population variation; formylated phloroglucinol derivatives; host shifts; host specificity; plant secondary metabolites; plant–herbivore interactions; polyphagous herbivores; potential for evolution; sideroxylonal; terpenes; within-population variation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-02-01

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