Butterflies in the tribe Melitaeini (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) are known to utilize host plants belonging to 16 families, although most host-plant records are from four families. Of the 16 host-plant families, 12 produce secondary plant metabolites called iridoids. Earlier studies have shown that larvae of several melitaeine species use iridoids as feeding stimulants and sequester these compounds for larval defense. I investigate the evolutionary history of host-plant use in the tribe Melitaeini by testing a recent phylogenetic hypothesis of 65 species representing the four major species groups of the tribe. By simple character optimization of host-plant families and presence/absence of iridoids in the host plants, I find that plant chemistry is a more conservative trait than plant taxonomy. The ancestral host plant(s) of the entire tribe most likely contained iridoids and were likely to be in the plant family Plantaginaceae. A major host shift from plants containing iridoids to plants not containing iridoids has happened three times independently. The results show that the evolution of host-plant use in melitaeines has been (and still is) a dynamic process when considering plant taxonomy, but is relatively stable when considering host-plant chemistry.
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Vol. 55 • No. 3