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Phenological matching rather than genetic variation in host preference underlies geographical variation in host plants used by orange tip butterflies

Stålhandske, Sandra, Olofsson, Martin, Gotthard, Karl, Ehrlén, Johan, Wiklund, Christer, Leimar, Olof
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 2016 v.119 no.4 pp. 1060-1067
butterflies, females, genetic variation, geographical variation, host plants, host preferences, larvae, oviposition, phenology, Sweden, United Kingdom
An insect species that shows variation in host species association across its geographical range may do so either because of local adaptation in host plant preference of the insect or through environmentally or genetically induced differences in the plants, causing variation in host plant suitability between regions. In the present study, we experimentally investigate the host plant preference of Anthocharis cardamines (orange tip butterfly) in two populations from the UK and two from Sweden. Previous reports indicate that A. cardamines larvae are found on different host plant species in different regions of the UK, and some variation has been reported in Sweden. Host plant choice trials showed that females prefer to oviposit on plants in an earlier phenological stage, as well as on larger plants. When controlling for plant phenological stage and size, the host species had no statistically significant effect on the choice of the females. Moreover, there were no differences in host plant species preference among the four butterfly populations. Based on our experiment, the oviposition choice by A. cardamines mainly depends on the phenological stage and the size of the host plant. This finding supports the idea that the geographical patterns of host–plant association of A. cardamines in the UK and Sweden are consequences of the phenology and availability of the local hosts, rather than regional genetic differences in the host species preference of the butterfly.