Geographic variation in resource use can produce locally adapted populations that exhibit genetic and phenotypic divergence. In the bird-winged grasshopper (Schistocerca emarginata = [lineata]), we investigate whether genetic data exist in accordance with geographic variation in resource (host) use and coloration. In Texas, juvenile grasshoppers feed almost exclusively on one of two host plants, Rubus trivialis (Rosaceae) or Ptelea trifoliata (Rutaceae), whereas adults of both forms are dietary generalists and consume many plants from unrelated families. Along with differences in juvenile feeding, differences in a density-dependent color polyphenism are concordant with genetic (mitochondrial DNA) variation among eight populations of the bird-winged grasshopper. Forms feeding on R. trivialis and those feeding on P. trifoliata represent monophyletic lineages according to phylogenetic analysis and maximum-likelihood tests of two alternative phylogeographic hypotheses for geographic variation in host use. Character-state optimization of host-plant acceptability on a phylogeny containing S. emarginata and outgroup taxa indicates that populations consuming R. trivialis gave rise to populations consuming P. trifoliata. Juvenile grasshoppers that consume P. trifoliata acquire deterrence against predation, suggesting that enemy-free space facilitated this host shift. In extant populations, adaptations stemming from alternative resource use during ontogeny present possible barriers to gene exchange. This study represents the first demonstration of resource-associated divergence in an otherwise generalist insect that exhibits temporal variation in resource use, characterized as developmental changes in host specialization. Our findings suggest that exploitation of different resources may have unexplored significance for generalist species that compartmentalize specialization to particular life stages.
Corresponding Editor: K. Shaw