Evolutionary responses by butterflies to patchy spatial distributions of resources in tropical environments

Acta Biotheoretica 29 (1) (1980)
Abstract
The greatest diversity of butterflies and their host plants occurs in tropical regions. Some groups of butterflies in the tropics exhibit monophagous feeding in the larval stage, exploiting only one family of plants; others are polyphagous, feeding on plants in two or more distinct families. The two major types of tropical habitats for butterflies, namely primary and secondary forests, offer very different evolutionary opportunities for the exploitation of plants as larval food. Butterflies are faced with the major logistical problem, as are many other herbivorous insects, of depositing eggs on the correct plant for successful larval feeding. This paper, using the concepts of phenotype set and spatial patchiness of resources, attemps to make some predictions as to the optimal phenotypic systems for monophagous and polyphagous feeding in tropical butterflies, as related to the spatial patchiness of larval host plants in primary and secondary forests. In addition to the secondary compound chemistry of larval host plants as playing a role in the evolution of monophagy and polyphagy, the assumption is made that the spatial patchiness of host plants within and among different families also acts as a major factor in determining optimal ranges of phenotypes for different patterns of larval feeding. Owing to the high spatial patchiness of primary forest species of canopy trees and vines, it is predicted that butterflies exploiting these will be mostly polyphagous, whereas secondary forests having stable formations of fewer plant species and larger patches of these plants, will have mostly monophagous species. Forest understories may have both monophagous and polyphagous species, depending upon the layer of forest and the general type of understory (i.e. palmaceous or dicotyledonous). Field data on some groups of butterflies from tropical America support these predictions. Polyphagous butterflies are predicted to possess a genetic system of mixed morphs with a population being polymorphic as a whole; monophagous butterflies are predicted to have individuals all more or less similar genetically, and with a high amount of genic variation within individuals. Other forms of monophagy may evolve in species that are essentially monomorphic but with various mechanisms (physiological, developmental, behavioral) of phenotypic flexibility at the individual level. Although the environment is essentially coarse-grained for larvae since most are sedentary and polymorphism is an optimal adaptive strategy, the oviposition strategy of the adult must also be considered and some situations (i.e. forest canopy) have resources (host plants) distributed in a fine-grained fashion. Other forms of limited polyphagy may result from monomorphic genetic systems in which there is considerable phenotypic flexibility.
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