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Dietary specialization influences the efficacy of larval tortoise beetle shield defenses

Vencl, F.V., Nogueira-de-Sa, F., Allen, B.J., Windsor, D.M., Futuyma, D.J.
Oecologia 2005 v.145 no.3 pp. 404-414
Chrysomelidae, plant pests, insect pests, herbivores, feeding behavior, Convolvulaceae, resistance mechanisms, predators, natural enemies, Azteca, Reduviidae
Plant chemical defenses and escape from natural enemies have been postulated to select for dietary specialization in herbivorous insects. In field and laboratory bioassays, we evaluated the effectiveness of intact and chemically modified larval shield defenses of the generalist Chelymorpha alternans and the specialists Acromis sparsa and Stolas plagiata (Chrysomelidae: Cassidinae) against three natural predators, using larvae reared on two morning glory (Convolvulaceae) species. We assessed whether: (1) specialists were better defended than generalists when both were fed and assayed on the same plant; (2) larval shield defenses were chemical, physical, or both; and (3) specialists exploit chemistry better than generalists. Live specialist larvae survived at higher rates than did generalists in predator bioassays with the bug Montina nigripes (Reduviidae), but there were no differences among groups against two species of Azteca ants (Hymenoptera: Dolichoderinae). Solvent leaching by H₂O or MeOH significantly reduced shield efficacy for all species compared to larvae with intact shields. In contrast, freshly killed specialist larvae exhibited significantly lower capture rates and frequencies than the generalists. Although solvent leaching significantly reduced overall shield efficacy for freshly killed larvae of all species, the pattern of leaching effects differed between specialists and generalists, with H₂O-leaching having a greater impact on the specialists. The overall vulnerability of the generalists appears due to lower chemical protection, which is ameliorated by increased escape behaviors, suggesting a selective trade-off between these defensive components. These experiments indicate that shield defenses are essential for larval survival and that specialists are superior at exploiting plant compounds residing in the aqueous fraction. Our results support the hypothesis that diet-specialized herbivorous insects have more effective defenses than generalists when both feed on the same plant due to the differential ability to exploit defensive precursors obtained from the host. The evolution of dietary specialization may therefore confer the advantage of enhanced enemy-free space.