Ant association facilitates the evolution of diet breadth in a lycaenid butterfly

Proceedings. Biological Sciences
Matthew L ForisterJames A Fordyce


The role of mutualistic interactions in adaptive diversification has not been thoroughly examined. Lycaenid butterflies provide excellent systems for exploring mutualistic interactions, as more than half of this family is known to use ants as a resource in interactions that range from parasitism to mutualism. We investigate the hypothesis that protection from predators offered to caterpillars by ants might facilitate host-range evolution. Specifically, experiments with the butterfly Lycaeides melissa investigated the role of ant association in the use of a novel host, alfalfa, Medicago sativa, which is a sub-optimal host for larval development. Survival on alfalfa is increased by the presence of ants, thus supporting the hypothesis that interaction with ants might be important for host-range evolution. Using a demographic model to explore ecological conditions associated with host-range expansion in L. melissa, we conclude that the presence of ants might be an essential component for populations persisting on the novel, sub-optimal host.


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