Facilitated by nature and agriculture: performance of a specialist herbivore improves with host-plant life history evolution, domestication, and breeding. Academic Article uri icon


  • Plant defenses against herbivores are predicted to change as plant lineages diversify, and with domestication and subsequent selection and breeding in the case of crop plants. We addressed whether defense against a specialist herbivore declined coincidently with life history evolution, domestication, and breeding within the grass genus Zea (Poaceae). For this, we assessed performance of corn leafhopper (Dalbulus maidis) following colonization of one of four Zea species containing three successive transitions: the evolutionary transition from perennial to annual life cycle, the agricultural transition from wild annual grass to primitive crop cultivar, and the agronomic transition from primitive to modern crop cultivar. Performance of corn leafhopper was measured through seven variables relevant to development speed, survivorship, fecundity, and body size. The plants included in our study were perennial teosinte (Zea diploperennis), Balsas teosinte (Zea mays parviglumis), a landrace maize (Zea mays mays), and a hybrid maize. Perennial teosinte is a perennial, iteroparous species, and is basal in Zea; Balsas teosinte is an annual species, and the progenitor of maize; the landrace maize is a primitive, genetically diverse cultivar, and is ancestral to the hybrid maize; and, the hybrid maize is a highly inbred, modern cultivar. Performance of corn leafhopper was poorest on perennial teosinte, intermediate on Balsas teosinte and landrace maize, and best on hybrid maize, consistent with our expectation of declining defense from perennial teosinte to hybrid maize. Overall, our results indicated that corn leafhopper performance increased most with the agronomic transition, followed by the life history transition, and least with the domestication transition.

published proceedings

  • Oecologia

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Dvila-Flores, A. M., DeWitt, T. J., & Bernal, J. S.

citation count

  • 50

complete list of authors

  • D├ívila-Flores, Amanda M||DeWitt, Thomas J||Bernal, Julio S

publication date

  • January 2013