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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2005 Sep-Oct;78(5):819-27. Epub 2005 May 27.

The amino acids used in reproduction by butterflies: a comparative study of dietary sources using compound-specific stable isotope analysis.

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Institute of Arctic Biology, P.O. Box 757000, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK, 99775-7000, USA.


It is a nutritional challenge for nectar-feeding insects to meet the amino acid requirements of oviposition. Here we investigate whether egg amino acids derive from larval diet or are synthesized from nectar sugar in four species of butterfly: Colias eurytheme, Speyeria mormonia, Euphydryas chalcedona, and Heliconius charitonia. These species exhibit a range of life history and differ in degree of shared phylogeny. We use 13C differences among plants to identify dietary sources of amino acid carbon, and we measure amino acid 13C using compound-specific stable isotope analysis. Egg essential amino acids derived solely from the larval diet, with no evidence for metabolic carbon remodeling. Carbon in nonessential amino acids from eggs derived primarily from nectar sugars, with consistent variation in amino acid turnover. There was no relationship between the nonessential amino acids of eggs and host plants, demonstrating extensive metabolic remodeling. Differences between species in carbon turnover were reflected at the molecular level, particularly by glutamate and aspartate. Essential amino acid 13C varied in a highly consistent pattern among larval host plants, reflecting a common isotopic "fingerprint" associated with plant biosynthesis. These data demonstrate conservative patterns of amino acid metabolism among Lepidoptera and the power of molecular stable isotope analyses for evaluating nutrient metabolism in situ.

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