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Context-dependent resistance against butterfly herbivory in a polyploid herb

König, Malin A. E., Wiklund, Christer, Ehrlén, Johan
Oecologia 2014 v.174 no.4 pp. 1265-1272
Cardamine, butterflies, cytotypes, environmental factors, flowers, habitats, herbivores, natural selection, oviposition, polyploidy
Spatial variation in biotic interactions and natural selection are fundamental parts of natural systems, and can be driven by differences in both trait distributions and the local environmental context of the interaction. Most studies of plant–animal interactions have been performed only in natural settings, making it difficult to disentangle the effects of traits and context. To assess the relative importance of trait differences and environmental context for among-population variation in plant resistance to herbivory, we compared oviposition by the butterfly Anthocharis cardamines on two ploidy types of the herb Cardamine pratensis under experimentally controlled conditions with oviposition in natural populations. Under controlled conditions, plants from octoploid populations were significantly more preferred than plants from tetraploid populations. This difference was largely mediated by differences in flower size. Among natural populations, there was no difference in oviposition rates between the two ploidy types. Our results suggest that differences in oviposition rates among populations of the two cytotypes in the field are caused mainly by differences in environmental context, and that the higher attractiveness of octoploids to herbivores observed under common environmental conditions is balanced by the fact that they occur in habitats which harbor lower densities of butterflies. This illustrates that spatial variation in biotic interactions is the net result of differences in trait distributions of the interacting organisms and differences in environmental context, and that variation in both traits and context are important in understanding species interactions.