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Inconspicuous leaf beetles reveal environment's role in formation of new species
Date:10/30/2009

maple."

When the researchers measured the growth rates of the willow and maple backcrosses, that is exactly what they found. This agreement provides extremely strong support for the interpretation that these beetles are undergoing ecological speciation, Funk says.

The maple and willow beetles for the study were collected from the same habitat, where the branches of their coexisting host trees commonly intermingle, providing ample opportunity for interbreeding between beetles types. Indeed, a study by the same authors published last year in the journal Evolution used molecular approaches to demonstrate that enough interbreeding is going on at this site to thoroughly intermix most of their genes. However, it also showed that natural selection was still forcing the two groups apart by acting specifically on a minority of the beetle genes, those that were associated with the use of one tree or the other.

This reflects the true power of natural selection, which has driven these beetles to become so intimately adapted to their host plant environment, promoting their speciation along the way. "It's not a coincidence that plant-feeding insects are among the most ecologically specialized and the most species-rich groups on the planet," says Funk.


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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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