Evolutionary Biology Online Journal Club

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Oct. 30th discussion: items of interest

We hope to have a full house for today’s discussion, but in the meantime I wanted to post (and repost) some tidbits that might be of added value:

–  An excellent string of comments on today’s article for discussion can be found here, including several points made by the authors.

– Listen to this recent NPR Science Friday clip summarizing some of the rhinoceros beetle research of Doug Emlen and colleagues, and watch the accompanying “battling beetles” video below:

(or watch it on NPR’s site)

–  Tom Houslay has recently blogged about sexual selection. Read his post; it’s a good one!

If you would like to contribute to the discussion but are unable to join us for the video chat, please hop in our IRC chatroom early (can you tell I’m excited for this discussion?) and post your questions/comments/suggestions for improving the #EBJclub, and I will relay them to the video participants when we go live!

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Reading for Tuesday, Oct 30

Will we ever decide on a paper by a margin of more than one or two votes? 🙂


Male rhinoceros beetles (Trypoxylus dichotomus) from the study; control (left) and dsInR-injected (right).

The paper chosen for this week was the paper by Douglas Emlen and collaborators on “a mechanism of extreme growth and reliable signaling in sexually selected ornaments and weapons. If you don’t have access to the paper, just let me know via comment or email.

Tom Houslay has also written a great blog post on the paper, which should give us some insights and cool pointers for discussion. Check it out.

As usual, our meeting time is Tuesday 5PM EDT, and we will meet both usingGoogle+ Hangouts and the text chat room. Just follow the links if you have any questions.

Hope to see a full house!

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Forister et al 2011 Proc B – Paper summary

We talked about adding more content to the blog so I thought I’d start by adding my summary of the paper we read today (Oct 16th 2012). If you have comments or questions please feel free to add them below in the comment thread.

Forister, M.L., Gompert, Z., Nice, C.C., Forister, G.W. and Fordyce, J.A. (2011) Ant association facilitates the evolution of diet breadth in a lycaenid butterfly. Proc Roy Soc B 278: 1539-1547

  • Note that the R code for the simulations can be found in an earlier post HERE


  • Lycaenidae are a large family of butterflies, more than half of them engage in ant interactions that are mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic
  • From an ecological perspective, these interactions are of interest in the context of enemy-free space, b/c ant-association provides caterpillars with protection
  • Evolutionary implications less studied, but it has been predicted that these mutualistic interactions with ants could affect  host-range evolution
  • Generally observed that lycaenid butterflies that have mutualistic relationships with ants have broader host-range
  • Two complimentary mechanisms have been proposed to explain this:
  1. Presence of ants influences adult oviposition decisions such that adults are more likely to lay eggs on plants with ants that are likely to tend/protect their offspring
  2. The presence of ants creates sufficient reduction in predator pressure to facilitate survival on novel hosts.


  • Can ant protection facilitate larval survival on a novel host such that it facilitates the evolution of diet breadth in Lycaenidae butterfly caterpillars?



  • Field study – Goal: Describe and compare abundance and richness of natural enemies, abundance of ants, and abundance of ant-tended Hemiptera
  • Field experiments(2)
    • Goal Exp. 1: Compare caterpillar survival on native and novel host plants with and without ant-interaction permitted
    • Goal Exp. 2: Compare caterpillar survival only on novel host, with and without ant-interaction permitted
  • Simulation modellingusing a stage-structured demographic model.
    • Goal: Explore the role of ant protection in persistence of Lycaeides melissa populations

Main results:

  • Field study:
    • Natural enemies more abundant on native host
    • Enemy richness greater on native host
    • Dominant predators included Geocorus bugs and crab spiders
    • Number of ant individuals higher on novel host
    • Number of Hemiptera higher on novel host
  • Experiment 1:
    • 199/338 caterpillars survived (58.9%)
    • Significant effect of plant species (higher on native host)
    • No effect of ant exclusion
      • But did see an increase in variance of survival for ant-permitted novel host treatment
  • Experiment 2:
    • Presence of ants increased survival significantly
    • Mean survival roughly equivalent to results from Exp. 1 on novel host
    • Protection likely indirect for the early instar caterpillars used in the exp.
  • Simulation:
    • When the proportion of novel host was very high (~1), butterfly population only persists when ant tending also high (i.e., results in a population that is dependent on the presence of ants)
      • This is a consequence of low survival on caterpillars on novel host when ants are lacking
    • Lower prop. of novel host (<0.6) causes persistence of ants to be insensitive to presence of ants
    • When minimum fraction of plants flowering is lowered, there is a greater chance of population extinction (technically, a greater parameter space where populations go extinct)
    • A result of the fact that without flowers the novel host is poor
    • When both hosts lack flower the native host is preferred, but when both hosts flower adults have no preference b/w native and novel host
      • Consequently, when more plants are flowering prop. more eggs are distributed to lower-quality novel host.


  • Mutualistic ant association can facilitate use of a novel host by reducing predation – not just by ant-associated oviposition.
  • Quality of novel host is so poor that without buffering against predation populations would not be able to persist solely on novel host
  • Complimentary to previous work on enemy-free space affecting diet breadth
    • Diet breadth may be affected by novel host which provide an escape from predators associated with novel host.