Date of Thesis

2011

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Warren Abrahamson

Abstract

Species diversity itself may cause additional species diversity. According to recent findings, some species modify their environment in such a way that they facilitate the creation of new niches for other species to evolve to fill. Given the vast speciesdiversity of insects, the occurrence of such sequential radiation of species is likely common among herbivorous insects and the species that depend on them, many of them being insects as well. Herbivorous insects often have close associations with specific host plants and their preferences for mating and ovipositing on a specific host-plant species can reproductively isolate host-specific populations, facilitating speciation. Previous research by our laboratory has established that there are two distinct populations of thegall fly, Eurosta solidaginis (Tephritidae), which attack different species of goldenrods, Solidago altissima (Asteraceae) and S. gigantea. The gall fly’s host-associated differentiation is facilitating the divergence and potential speciation of twosubpopulations of the gall-boring beetle Mordellistena convicta (Mordellidae) by providing new resources (galls on stems of the galdenrods) for the gall-boring beetles. These beetles exist as two host-plant associated populations of inquilines that inhabit the galls induced by the gall fly. While our previous research has provided genetic and behavioral evidence for host-race formation, little is known about the role of their host plants in assortative mating and oviposition-site selection of the gall-boring beetles’ hostassociated populations. Volatile emissions from host plants can play a major role in assisting herbivores to locate their natal host plants and thus facilitate assortative mating and host-specific oviposition. The present study investigated the role of host-plant volatiles in host fidelity (mating on the host plant) and oviposition preference of M. convicta by measuring its behavioral responses to the host-plant volatile emissions using Y-tube olfactometers. In total, we tested behavioral responses of 615 beetles. Our resultsshow that M. convicta adults are attracted to their natal host galls (67% of S. altissima-emerging beetles and 70% of S. gigantea-emerging beetles) and avoid the alternate host galls (75% of S. altissima-emerging beetles and 66% of S. gigantea-emerging beetles),while showing no preference for, or avoidance of, ungalled plants from either species. This suggests that the gall beetles can orient to the volatile chemicals emitted by the galls and can potentially use them to identify suitable sites for mating and/or oviposition. Thus, host-associated mating and oviposition may play a role in the sequential speciation of the gall-boring beetle.

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