The relationship between diet breadth and geographic range size in the butterfly subfamily nymphalinae - A study of global scale

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Abstract

The "oscillation hypothesis" has been proposed as a general explanation for the exceptional diversification of herbivorous insect species. The hypothesis states that speciation rates are elevated through repeated correlated changes - oscillations - in degree of host plant specificity and geographic range. The aim of this study is to test one of the predictions from the oscillation hypothesis: a positive correlation between diet breadth (number of host plants used) and geographic range size, using the globally distributed butterfly subfamily Nymphalinae. Data on diet breadth and global geographic range were collected for 182 Nymphalinae butterflies species and the size of the geographic range was measured using a GIS. We testedboth diet breadth and geographic range size for phylogenetic signal to see if species are independent of each other with respect to these characters. As this test gave inconclusive results, data was analysed both using cross-species comparisons and taking phylogeny into account using generalised estimating equations as applied in the APE package in R. Irrespective of which method was used, we found a significant positive correlation between diet breadth and geographic range size. These results are consistent for two different measures of diet breadth and removal of outliers. We conclude that the global range sizes of Nymphalinae butterflies are correlated to diet breadth. That is, butterflies that feed on a large number of host plants tend to have larger geographic ranges than do butterflies that feed on fewer plants. These results lend support for an important step in the oscillation hypothesis of plant-driven diversification, in that it can provide the necessary fuel for future population fragmentation and speciation. ©2011 Slove, Janz.

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Slove, J., & Janz, N. (2011). The relationship between diet breadth and geographic range size in the butterfly subfamily nymphalinae - A study of global scale. PLoS ONE, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016057

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