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Oecologia. 2008 Aug;157(2):287-94. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1077-z. Epub 2008 Jul 8.

Enemy-free space and habitat-specific host specialization in a butterfly.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


The majority of herbivorous insects have relatively specialized food habits. This suggests that specialization has some advantage(s) over generalization. Traditionally, feeding specialization has been thought to be linked to digestive or other food-related physiological advantages, but recent theory suggests that generalist natural enemies of herbivorous insects can also provide a major selective pressure for restricted host plant range. The European swallowtail butterfly Papilio machaon utilizes various plants in the Apiaceae family as hosts, but is an ecological specialist being monophagous on Angelica archangelica in southern Sweden. This perennial monocarp grows in three seaside habitat types: (1) on the barren rocky shore in the absence of any surrounding vegetation, (2) on the rocky shore with some surrounding vegetation, and (3) on species-rich meadows. The rocky shore habitat harbors few invertebrate generalist predators, whereas a number of invertebrate predators abound in the meadowland habitat. Here, we test the importance of enemy-free space for feeding specialization in Papilio machaon by assessing survival of larvae placed by hand on A. archangelica in each of the three habitat types, and by assessing the habitat-specificity of adult female egg-laying behavior by recording the distribution of eggs laid by free-flying adult females among the three habitat types. Larval survival was substantially higher in the rocky shore habitat than in the meadowland and significantly higher on host plants without surrounding vegetation on the rocky shore. Eggs laid by free-flying females were found in all three habitat types, but were significantly more frequent in the rocky shore habitat, suggesting that females prefer to lay eggs in the habitat type where offspring survival is highest. These results show that larval survivorship on the same host plant species can be strongly habitat-specific, and suggest that enemy-free space is an underlying factor that drives feeding specialization in Papilio machaon.

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