Genetic variation in a phylogenetic context: Responses of two specialized leaf beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) to host plants of their congeners

Douglas J. Futuyma*, Joseph S. Walsh, Timothy Morton, Daniel J. Funk, Mark C. Keese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This work explores the possibility that constraints on genetic variation guide host shifts and are responsible for the evolutionary conservatism of host affiliation in phytophagous insects. To this end, we used full‐ and half‐sib breeding designs to screen two species of the North American bettle genus Ophraella for genetic variation in larval and adult feeding responses to several host plants of other species of Ophraella. All the plants are in the family Asteraceae. In O. conferta, we observed effectively no feeding response, and hence no genetic variation in response, to three of five test plant species; only those plants related to the species' natural hosts evoked genetically variable responses. In O. artemisiae, adults displayed genetic variation in response to a congener of the natural host, but not to two distantly related plants. However, significant variation among full‐sib broods in larval feeding suggests the existence of nonadditive genetic variance in feeding response to all five species of test plants—although survival was very low on most of them. The results suggest that patterns of presence versus apparent absence of detectable genetic variation may be related to the chemical similarity of plants to the insects' natural hosts, but not evidently to the phylogenetic history of host affiliation within the genus. Almost all genetic correlations in responses to host plants were not significantly different from zero; the few significant correlations were positive, and negative correlations that might explain host specificity were not found. Our data do not explain why exclusive shifts to new hosts should occur, but the apparent lack of genetic variation in responses to some plants suggests that the direction of host shifts is genetically constrained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-146
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1994


  • Asteraceae
  • Chrysomelidae
  • genetic constraints
  • insect‐plant interactions
  • phylogeny.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Genetic variation in a phylogenetic context: Responses of two specialized leaf beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) to host plants of their congeners'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this