The host plant range of herbivorous insects is a major aspect of insect-plant interaction, but the genetic basis of host range expansion in insects is poorly understood. In butterflies, gustatory receptor genes (GRs) play important roles in host plant selection by ovipositing females. Since several studies have shown associations between the repertoire sizes of chemosensory gene families and the diversity of resource use, we hypothesized that the increase in the number of genes in the GR family is associated with host range expansion in butterflies. Here, we analyzed the evolutionary dynamics of GRs among related species, including the host generalist Vanessa cardui and three specialists. Although the increase of the GR repertoire itself was not observed, we found that the gene birth rate of GRs was the highest in the lineage leading to V. cardui compared with other specialist lineages. We also identified two taxon-specific subfamilies of GRs, characterized by frequent lineage-specific duplications and higher non-synonymous substitution rates. Together, our results suggest that frequent gene duplications in GRs, which might be involved in the detection of plant secondary metabolites, were associated with host range expansion in the V. cardui lineage. These evolutionary patterns imply that the capability to perceive various compounds during host selection was favored during adaptation to diverse host plants.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics