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Larval Performance in the Context of Ecological Diversification and Speciation in Lycaeides Butterflies
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The role of ecology in diversification has been widely investigated, though few groups have been studied in enough detail to allow comparisons of different ecological traits that potentially contribute to reproductive isolation. We investigated larval performance within a species complex of Lycaeides butterflies. Caterpillars from seven populations were reared on five host plants, asking if host-specific, adaptive larval traits exist. We found large differences in performance across plants and fewer differences among populations. The patterns of performance are complex and suggest both conserved traits (i.e., plant effects across populations) and more recent dynamics of local adaptation, in particular for L. melissa that has colonized an exotic host. We did not find a relationship between oviposition preference and larval performance, suggesting that preference did not evolve to match performance. Finally, we put larval performance within the context of several other traits that might contribute to ecologically based reproductive isolation in the Lycaeides complex. This larger context, involving multiple ecological and behavioral traits, highlights the complexity of ecological diversification and emphasizes the need for detailed studies on the strength of putative barriers to gene flow in order to fully understand the process of ecological speciation.