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Genetic differentiation in the viability of sibling species of Rhagoletis fruit flies on host plants, and the influence of reduced hybrid viability on reproductive isolation

Bierbaum, Todd J., Bush, Guy L.
Entomologia experimentalis et applicata 1990 v.55 no.2 pp. 105-118
Malus domestica, Malus pumila, Pyrus, Rhagoletis mendax, Rhagoletis pomonella, Vaccinium corymbosum, adulthood, apples, blueberries, fruit flies, fruits, gene flow, genetic variation, host plants, hybrids, interspecific hybridization, oviposition, parasitoids, phytophagous insects, progeny, pupae, rearing, reproductive isolation, sibling species, viability
Prior theoretical studies have analyzed host-associated factors restricting gene flow between phytophagous insect species, and simulated evolutionary changes in components of fitness contributing to the adaptation of species to distinct host plants. However, there is relatively little empirical information on these topics. In this paper we report data on two host-associated sibling species of tephritid fruit flies, Rhagoletis mendax (Curran) and R. pomonella (Walsh) which infest ericaceous and rosaceous host plants, respectively. To test the hypothesis that these species have evolved viability differences on alternate hosts which can contribute to the restriction of gene flow between them, we measured the larval-to-adult viability of R. mendax, R. pomonella and F₁ interspecific hybrid progeny reared on naturally-growing, highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) and apple (Malus pumila Miller = Pyrus malus L.) plants in the field. Our results indicate that genetic changes associated with the adaptation of these species to distinct host plants could also cause reduced fitness of interspecific hybrids, and thereby restrict interspecific gene flow. Fewer interspecific hybrids survived to adulthood than either R. pomonella progeny reared in apples or R. mendax progeny reared in blueberries. These differences in the viability of progeny from hybrid versus conspecific crosses can substantially restrict gene flow between R. mendax and R. pomonella flies, and may be an important factor influencing their reproductive isolation. Genetic differences among hybrid and conspecific crosses were also detected for the lengths, widths and weights of pupae reared from blueberries and apples. In a second experiment, the ovipositional preferences of R. mendax and R. pomonella flies were recorded on host plants inside a field cage. R. mendax flies had a strong ovipositional preference for blueberries over apples, whereas R. pomonella flies readily oviposited in both host fruits. Other studies have determined that R. pomonella flies also oviposit in the fruits of several other plants which are not hosts under field conditions; this behavior can promote host shifts to new plants by flies with suitable plant-finding and viability traits. Our results support the theoretical assumption that divergence in host-acceptance behaviors and viabilities on host plants are key aspects of evolutionary differentiation among closely-related taxa of phytophagous parasitic insects. We discuss our results in the context of other traits that can restrict gene flow between R. mendax and R. pomonella, and in relation to the findings of other studies on the evolution of host plant use.