Evol Ecol Res 2: 645-665 (2000)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Comparative ecology of membracids and tenthredinids in a macroevolutionary context

Peter W. Price1 and Timothy G. Carr2

1Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5640 and 2Field of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2701, USA

Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.
e-mail: peter.price@nau.edu


The Phylogenetic Constraints Hypothesis argues that macroevolutionary patterns provide the basis for understanding broad ecological patterns in nature involving the distribution, abundance and population dynamics of species. A phylogenetic constraint is a critical plesiomorphic character, or set of characters, common to a major taxon, such as a plant-piercing ovipositor in insects independently derived in the distantly related families of treehoppers (Homoptera: Membracidae) and the common sawflies (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae). Such characters limit the ecological and thus the major adaptive options in a lineage, but many minor adaptations are coordinated to maximize the ecological opportunities that can be exploited given the constraint. Such a set of adaptations is called the ‘adaptive syndrome’. These characters in the adaptive syndrome, which evolve in response to the constraint, then result in inevitable ecological consequences, called ‘emergent properties’. We test the hypothesis by comparing emergent properties of species of membracids and tenthredinids, such as patterns of host plant utilization and population dynamics, and by comparing their putative adaptive syndromes, especially as related to oviposition behaviour. Although the two families are very divergent phylogenetically, we argue that convergence in ovipositor structure and function sets the stage for a comparable train of effects from phylogenetic constraint to adaptive syndrome to emergent properties. We report strong similarities in critical aspects of behaviour, especially the utilization of relatively rare and vigorous, actively growing shoots of host plants. Such use of rare resources dictates the emergent properties common to both families: patchy distribution, low abundance, and relatively stable population dynamics without eruptive episodes. This macroevolutionary approach provides a perspective for the discovery of macroecological patterns in nature and their mechanistic explanation, as well as a strong predictive capability based on convergence or divergence of key plesiomorphic characters in major taxa.

Keywords: adaptive syndromes, emergent properties, Homoptera: Membracidae, Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae, phylogenetic constraints.

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