In herbivorous insects, differences in the degree of specialization to host plants emerge when the distribution of an herbivore differs from that of its host plants, which results in a mosaic of populations differing in performance on the different host plants. Using a specialized butterfly, Battus polydamas archidamas Boisduval, 1936, which feeds exclusively on the genus Aristolochia, we test whether host plant co-occurrence and associated differences in host quality modify local adaptation in terms of larval preference and performance. We compared individuals from a monospecific host stand of Aristolochia chilensis with those from a mixed host stand of A. chilensis and A. bridgesii. Individuals were reared in a reciprocal transfer experiment in which source population and the host species fed to larvae were fully crossed in a two-by-two factorial experiment in order to quantify their preference, performance (development time, size and growth rate) and survival. Individuals from both populations preferred the species they ate during their larval development over the other host, which indicates host plant-induced preference with non-adaptive implications. Larvae from mixed and monospecific stands grew faster and survived better when reared on A. bridgesii than A. chilensis. Larvae from a monospecific host stand grew slower and fewer individuals survived under the same local conditions, which is contrary to expectations. Therefore, rearing the butterfly on A. bridgesii consistently resulted in better performance, which indicates that the monospecific population is less well adapted to its host than the mixed population. Variation in the occurrence of the two host plants in the two populations can result in divergent selection due to the variation in plant quality, which in this case could result in opposing adaptive processes.
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