Variable Response of Insects to Hybrid Versus Parental Sagebrush in Common Gardens

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Both ecological and genetic mechanisms have been proposed to explain patterns of herbivore attack on interspecific plant hybrids, but distinguishing among them can be difficult in natural hybrid zones. We performed a common-garden experiment to evaluate four genetic hypotheses: dominance, additivity, elevated hybrid susceptibility, and elevated hybrid resistance. Censuses and cage experiments were used to compare insect responses to basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (A. t. vaseyana), and their F2 progeny. After two growing seasons, hybrid shrubs resembled mountain big sagenbrush in size, but were more similar to basin big sagebrush in flower production. Censuses of naturally colonizing insects (the gall midge Rhopalomyia obovata, the bagworm moth Apterona helix, and the aphid Obtusicauda coweni) tended to support the dominance hypothesis: if the insect clearly discriminated between the two parents, its frequency on hybrids closely resembled that on one of the parents. Moreover, colonization of hybrids in all three cases suggested a dominance deviation toward the susceptible parent rather than toward the resistant parent. In contrast to the censuses, cage experiments involving two insects supported the hybrid-susceptibility hypothesis; both survival and growth of the grasshopper Melanoplus sanguinipes and growth of the leaf beetle Trirhabda pilosa were higher on hybrid shrubs than on either parent. Because many secondary compounds have been determined to occur at intermediate concentrations in F2 shrubs, dominance for susceptibility may indicate that insects respond to plant traits (e.g., oviposition stimulants and deterrents) in a threshold manner. Mechanisms underlying increased hybrid susceptibility are less clear, but our experimental design makes environmental explanations (e.g., the plant-stress hypothesis) unlikely. Although we eliminated several confounding factors, our results agree with the conclusion from natural hybrid zones that insect responses to hybrid plants are likely to be idiosyncratic; even congeneric species did not respond similarly to hybrid and parental plants.

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