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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Sep 7;277(1694):2703-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0433. Epub 2010 Apr 21.

Divergence in behaviour between the European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis, and its sibling species Ostrinia scapulalis: adaptation to human harvesting?

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Centre de Biologie et de Gestion des Populations, UMR INRA-IRD-CIRAD-Montpellier SupAgro, Campus International de Baillarguet, Montferrier-sur-Lez, France.


Divergent adaptation to host plant species may be the major mechanism driving speciation and adaptive radiations in phytophagous insects. Host plants can differ intrinsically in a number of attributes, but the role of natural enemies in host plant specialization is often underappreciated. Here, we report behavioural divergence between the European corn borer (ECB, Ostrinia nubilalis) and its sibling species Ostrinia scapulalis, in relation to a major enemy: humans. Harvesting maize imposes selective mortality on Ostrinia larvae: those located above the cut-off line of the stalk face almost certain death. We show that ECB larvae diapause closer to the ground than those of O. scapulalis, which is sympatric but feeds mainly on weeds. The difference in diapause height results from genetically determined differences in geotactic behaviour. ECB larvae descend towards the ground specifically at harvest time, increasing their chances of surviving harvesting by about 50 per cent over O. scapulalis larvae. Natural enemies appear as a major driver of host-plant specialization in this example, stressing the need to consider 'tri-trophic' ecological niches to understand insect diversification. Our results also strongly suggest that geotaxis evolved as a singular instance of behavioural resistance in a major agricultural pest.

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