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Pathogen invasion triggers an evolutionary trap for an endangered checkerspot butterfly dependent on an exotic host plant

Severns, Paul M., Stone, Jeffrey K.
Biological invasions 2016 v.18 no.12 pp. 3623-3633
Euphydryas editha, Plantago lanceolata, Pyrenopeziza, adults, biomass, butterflies, endangered species, fungi, host plants, larvae, latitude, leaves, necrosis, oviposition, pathogens, phenology, surveys, winter, North America
Exotic pathogen invasions can change host eco-evolutionary interactions and possibly create an evolutionary trap when the pathogen generates mismatches between developmental phenology and reproductive cues. Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori), is an endangered species of western North America with 80 % of the extant populations dependent on an exotic host, Plantago lanceolata. Survey of occupied, recently extinct, and unsuccessful butterfly reintroduction sites spanning 4° of latitude revealed widespread disease on P. lanceolata caused by Pyrenopeziza plantaginis. This fungal pathogen, new to North America, reduces the standing crop of P. lanceolata foliage throughout the winter post-diapause larval feeding period. However, disease is absent when adult butterflies and pre-diapause larvae are active. Diseased plants were frequent in Taylor’s checkerspot populations with a history of persistence, but >90 % of the host plants in these populations had initiated new leaves within the first few weeks of post-diapause larval feeding. Conversely, host plants in recently extinct and unsuccessfully reintroduced populations were severely diseased, >66 % mean foliage necrosis/plant, and <23 % had initiated new leaves. Feeding choice trials with 25 larvae indicated that new leaves were strongly and consistently preferred by post-diapause larvae over all other available leaf types, both diseased and non-diseased. Because the influence of disease on post-diapause larval food resources is developmentally disassociated from oviposition, P. plantaginis invasion appears to have triggered an evolutionary trap for Plantago-dependent populations of Taylor’s checkerspot.