Preference, performance, and chemical defense in an endangered butterfly using novel and ancestral host plants

Nathan L. Haan, M. Deane Bowers, Jonathan D. Bakker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Adoption of novel host plants by herbivorous insects can require new adaptations and may entail loss of adaptation to ancestral hosts. We examined relationships between an endangered subspecies of the butterfly Euphydryas editha (Taylor’s checkerspot) and three host plant species. Two of the hosts (Castilleja hispida, Castilleja levisecta) were used ancestrally while the other, Plantago lanceolata, is exotic and was adopted more recently. We measured oviposition preference, neonate preference, larval growth, and secondary chemical uptake on all three hosts. Adult females readily laid eggs on all hosts but favored Plantago and tended to avoid C. levisecta. Oviposition preference changed over time. Neonates had no preference among host species, but consistently chose bracts over leaves within both Castilleja species. Larvae developed successfully on all species and grew to similar size on all of them unless they ate only Castilleja leaves (rather than bracts) which limited their growth. Diet strongly influenced secondary chemical uptake by larvae. Larvae that ate Plantago or C. hispida leaves contained the highest concentrations of iridoid glycosides, and iridoid glycoside composition varied with host species and tissue type. Despite having largely switched to a novel exotic host and generally performing better on it, this population has retained breadth in preference and ability to use other hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number992
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Victoria Fox and Alisha Orloff assisted with colony care and measurements; Adrian Carper and Megan Zabinski performed iridoid glycoside measurements. Mary Linders (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) provided butterflies for the study and useful comments on the manuscript. Thanks to two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. This project was funded by National Science Foundation Grant DEB 1556106.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Preference, performance, and chemical defense in an endangered butterfly using novel and ancestral host plants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this