Background: Although empirical data indicate that ecological speciation is prevalent in nature, the relative importance of different forms of reproductive isolation and the traits generating reproductive isolation remain unclear. To address these questions, we examined a pair of ecologically divergent pine-sawfly species: while Neodiprion pinetum specializes on a thin-needled pine (Pinus strobus), N. lecontei utilizes thicker-needled pines. We hypothesized that extrinsic postzygotic isolation is generated by oviposition traits. To test this hypothesis, we assayed ovipositor morphology, oviposition behavior, and host-dependent oviposition success in both species and in F1 and backcross females.

Results: Compared to N. lecontei, N. pinetum females preferred P. strobus more strongly, had smaller ovipositors, and laid fewer eggs per needle. Additionally, we observed host- and trait-dependent reductions in oviposition success in F1 and backcross females. Hybrid females that had pinetum-like host preference (P. strobus) and lecontei-like oviposition traits (morphology and egg pattern) fared especially poorly.

Conclusions: Together, these data indicate that maladaptive combinations of oviposition traits in hybrids contribute to extrinsic postzygotic isolation between N. lecontei and N. pinetum, suggesting that oviposition traits may be an important driver of divergence in phytophagous insects.

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Published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, v. 17, 26, p. 1-15.

© The Author(s). 2017

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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This work was supported by the University of Kentucky and the National Science Foundation (DEB-1257739).

Related Content

All data (needle widths; oviposition behavior, ovipositor morphology, and hatch success for parents, F1s, and BCs) are archived at Dryad doi:10.5061/dryad.4g26c.

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Additional file 1: Table S1-S5, Figure S1-S3