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Evolution. 2006 Aug;60(8):1622-37.

Larval habits, host-plant associations, and speciation in nematine sawflies (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 3000, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland.


Adaptive radiations consist of two intertwined processes, diversification of species and diversification of their ecological niches, but it is unclear whether there is a causal link between the processes. In phytophagous insects, ecological diversification mainly involves shifts in host-plant associations and in larval feeding habits (internal or external) on different plant parts, and several observations indicate that speciation is facilitated by host shifts. Data on host use in individual species suggest that internal feeders are less likely to colonize new hosts than external-feeding taxa and, consequently, increases in collective host ranges and species numbers should be slowed down in endophagous lineages. We tested these related hypotheses by using phylogenetic information to reconstruct the evolutionary history of larval resource use in the sawfly subfamily Nematinae, a group of 1000 plus species with a broad range of niches: the subfamily's combined host range includes over 20 plant families, and larvae may feed externally on leaves or needles, or internally, for example, in buds, fruits, leaves, or galls. The results show that: (1) Most internally feeding groups have evolved independently from external-feeding ancestors, but several distinct internal habits have appeared convergently multiple times; (2) Shifts among host taxa are clearly more common than changes in larval habits; (3) The majority of host switches have occurred among phylogenetically close plant groups, but many shifts are manifest among distantly related, ecologically proximate hosts; (4) Although external feeding characteristic of the common ancestor of Nematinae is associated with relatively high rates of host-shifting, internal feeders are very conservative in their host use; (5) In contrast, the effect of endophagy on speciation probabilities is more variable: net speciation rates are lowered in most internal-feeding groups, but a striking exception is found in species that induce galls on Salicaceae. The loose connection between collective host ranges and species diversity provides empirical support for theoretical models suggesting that speciation rates are a function of a complex interplay between "intrinsic" niche width and resource heterogeneity.

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