Experimental assemblage of novel plant–herbivore interactions: ecological host shifts after 40 million years of isolation

Carlos Garcia-Robledo, Carol C. Horvitz, W. John Kress, A. Nalleli Carvajal-Acosta, Terry L. Erwin, Charles L. Staines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Geographic isolation is the first step in insect herbivore diet specialization. Such specialization is postulated to increase insect fitness, but may simultaneously reduce insect ability to colonize novel hosts. During the Paleocene-Eocene, plants from the order Zingiberales became isolated either in the Paleotropics or in the Neotropics. During the Cretaceous, rolled-leaf beetles diversified in the Neotropics concurrently with Neotropical Zingiberales. Using a community of Costa Rican rolled-leaf beetles and their Zingiberales host plants as study system, we explored if previous geographic isolation precludes insects to expand their diets to exotic hosts. We recorded interactions between rolled-leaf beetles and native Zingiberales by combining DNA barcodes and field records for 7450 beetles feeding on 3202 host plants. To determine phylogenetic patterns of diet expansions, we established 20 experimental plots in the field, in which we planted plots five exotic Zingiberales, recording beetles feeding on these exotic hosts. In the laboratory, using both native and exotic host plants, we reared a subset of insect species that had expanded their diets to the exotic plants. The original plant–herbivore community comprised 24 beetle species feeding on 35 native hosts, representing 103 plant–herbivore interactions. After exotic host plant introduction, 20 percent of the beetle species expanded their diets to exotic Zingiberales. Insects only established on exotic hosts that belong to the same plant family as their native hosts. Laboratory experiments show that beetles are able to complete development on these novel hosts. In conclusion, rolled-leaf beetles are preadapted to expand their diets to novel host plants even after millions of years of geographic isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)803-810
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Cephaloleia
  • Costa Rica
  • DNA barcoding
  • La Selva Biological Station
  • diet expansions
  • ecological fitting
  • herbivory
  • phylogenetic constraints

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Experimental assemblage of novel plant–herbivore interactions: ecological host shifts after 40 million years of isolation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this