Behavioral evolution accompanying host shifts in cactophilic Drosophila larvae

Joshua M. Coleman, Kyle M. Benowitz, Alexandra G. Jost, Luciano M. Matzkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


For plant utilizing insects, the shift to a novel host is generally accompanied by a complex set of phenotypic adaptations. Many such adaptations arise in response to differences in plant chemistry, competitive environment, or abiotic conditions. One less well-understood factor in the evolution of phytophagous insects is the selective environment provided by plant shape and volume. Does the physical structure of a new plant host favor certain phenotypes? Here, we use cactophilic Drosophila, which have colonized the necrotic tissues of cacti with dramatically different shapes and volumes, to examine this question. Specifically, we analyzed two behavioral traits in larvae, pupation height, and activity that we predicted might be related to the ability to utilize variably shaped hosts. We found that populations of D. mojavensis living on lengthy columnar or barrel cactus hosts have greater activity and pupate higher in a laboratory environment than populations living on small and flat prickly pear cactus cladodes. Crosses between the most phenotypically extreme populations suggest that the genetic architectures of these behaviors are distinct. A comparison of activity in additional cactophilic species that are specialized on small and large cactus hosts shows a consistent trend. Thus, we suggest that greater motility and an associated tendency to pupate higher in the laboratory are potential larval adaptations for life on a large plant where space is more abundant and resources may be more sparsely distributed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6921-6931
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Drosophila mojavensis
  • activity
  • cactophilic
  • larval locomotion
  • local adaptation
  • plant structure
  • pupation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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