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  1. Plant secondary metabolites that defend leaves from herbivores also occur in floral nectar. While specialist herbivores often have adaptations providing resistance to these compounds in leaves, many social insect pollinators are generalists, and therefore are not expected to be as resistant to such compounds. The milkweeds, Asclepias spp., contain toxic cardenolides in all tissues including floral nectar. We compared the concentrations and identities of cardenolides between tissues of the North American common milkweed Asclepias syriaca, and then studied the effect of the predominant cardenolide in nectar, glycosylated aspecioside, on an abundant pollinator. We show that a generalist bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, a common pollinator in eastern North America, consumes less nectar with experimental addition of ouabain (a standard cardenolide derived from Apocynacid plants native to east Africa) but not with addition of glycosylated aspecioside from milkweeds. At a concentration matching that of the maximum in the natural range, both cardenolides reduced activity levels of bees after four days of consumption, demonstrating toxicity despite variation in behavioral deterrence (i.e., consumption). In vitro enzymatic assays of Na+/K+-ATPase, the target site of cardenolides, showed lower toxicity of the milkweed cardenolide than ouabain for B. impatiens, indicating that the lower deterrence may be due tomore »greater tolerance to glycosylated aspecioside. In contrast, there was no difference between the two cardenolides in toxicity to the Na+/K+-ATPase from a control insect, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Accordingly, this work reveals that even generalist pollinators such as B. impatiens may have adaptations to reduce the toxicity of specific plant secondary metabolites that occur in nectar, despite visiting flowers from a wide variety of plants over the colony’s lifespan.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  2. Dormancy has repeatedly evolved in plants, animals, and microbes and is hypothesized to facilitate persistence in the face of environmental change. Yet previous experiments have not tracked demography and trait evolution spanning a full successional cycle to ask whether early bouts of natural selection are later reinforced or erased during periods of population dormancy. In addition, it is unclear how well short-term measures of fitness predict long-term genotypic success for species with dormancy. Here, we address these issues using experimental field populations of the plantOenothera biennis, which evolved over five generations in plots exposed to or protected from insect herbivory. While populations existed above ground, there was rapid evolution of defensive and life-history traits, but populations lost genetic diversity and crashed as succession proceeded. After >5 y of seed dormancy, we triggered germination from the seedbank and genotyped >3,000 colonizers. Resurrected populations showed restored genetic diversity that reduced earlier responses to selection and pushed population phenotypes toward the starting conditions of a decade earlier. Nonetheless, four defense and life-history traits remained differentiated in populations with insect suppression compared with controls. These findings capture key missing elements of evolution during ecological cycles and demonstrate the impact of dormancy on future evolutionarymore »responses to environmental change.

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  3. For highly specialized insect herbivores, plant chemical defenses are often co-opted as cues for oviposition and sequestration. In such interactions, can plants evolve novel defenses, pushing herbivores to trade off benefits of specialization with costs of coping with toxins? We tested how variation in milkweed toxins (cardenolides) impacted monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) growth, sequestration, and oviposition when consuming tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), one of two critical host plants worldwide. The most abundant leaf toxin, highly apolar and thiazolidine ring–containing voruscharin, accounted for 40% of leaf cardenolides, negatively predicted caterpillar growth, and was not sequestered. Using whole plants and purified voruscharin, we show that monarch caterpillars convert voruscharin to calotropin and calactin in vivo, imposing a burden on growth. As shown by in vitro experiments, this conversion is facilitated by temperature and alkaline pH. We next employed toxin-target site experiments with isolated cardenolides and the monarch’s neural Na+/K+-ATPase, revealing that voruscharin is highly inhibitory compared with several standards and sequestered cardenolides. The monarch’s typical >50-fold enhanced resistance to cardenolides compared with sensitive animals was absent for voruscharin, suggesting highly specific plant defense. Finally, oviposition was greatest on intermediate cardenolide plants, supporting the notion of a trade-off between benefits and costs ofmore »sequestration for this highly specialized herbivore. There is apparently ample opportunity for continued coevolution between monarchs and milkweeds, although the diffuse nature of the interaction, due to migration and interaction with multiple milkweeds, may limit the ability of monarchs to counteradapt.

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