Community structure of insect herbivores is driven by conservatism, escalation and divergence of defensive traits in Ficus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Escalation (macroevolutionary increase) or divergence (disparity between relatives) in trait values are two frequent outcomes of the plant-herbivore arms race. We studied the defences and caterpillars associated with 21 sympatric New Guinean figs. Herbivore generalists were concentrated on hosts with low protease and oxidative activity. The distribution of specialists correlated with phylogeny, protease and trichomes. Additionally, highly specialised Asota moths used alkaloid rich plants. The evolution of proteases was conserved, alkaloid diversity has escalated across the studied species, oxidative activity has escalated within one clade, and trichomes have diverged across the phylogeny. Herbivore specificity correlated with their response to host defences: escalating traits largely affected generalists and divergent traits specialists; but the effect of escalating traits on extreme specialists was positive. In turn, the evolution of defences in Ficus can be driven towards both escalation and divergence in individual traits, in combination providing protection against a broad spectrum of herbivores.


  • Martin Volf
  • Simon T. Segar
  • Scott E. Miller
  • Brus Isua
  • Mentap Sisol
  • Gibson Aubona
  • Petr Šimek
  • Martin Moos
  • Juuso Laitila
  • Jorma Kim
  • Jan Zima
  • Jadranka Rota
  • George D. Weiblen
  • Stewart Wossa
  • Juha Pekka Salminen
  • Yves Basset
  • Vojtech Novotny
External organisations
  • University of Turku
  • University of South Bohemia
  • Biology Centre, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (BC-CAS).
  • National Museum of Natural History, Washington
  • New Guinea Binatang Research Center
  • Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
  • University of Minnesota system
  • University of Goroka
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • University of Panama
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • Alkaloids, Choreutidae, Coevolution, Cysteine protease, Herbivore, Lepidoptera, New Guinea, Polyphenols, Pyraloidea, Trichomes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-92
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number1
Early online date2017 Nov 15
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan
Publication categoryResearch