Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 February 2009
We tested the hypothesis that host tree age may act as a selective factor and lead to local adaptation of the hemlock looper (Lambdina fiscellaria), a geometrid Lepidoptera that has a wide geographical distribution and has evolved in different eco-zones characterized by different levels of floristic composition, age structure and fragmentation level. Considering that hemlock looper outbreaks mainly occurred in old forests, we compared the biological performances of two populations. The first population was collected in the northern virgin boreal forest, which is dominated by mature and overmature coniferous stands that have not suffered from human disturbance. The other population was collected in the southern mixed-wood forest, which is more diversified and has been modified by forest harvesting. Larvae were reared under controlled conditions on foliage from three age classes of balsam fir trees: juvenile, mature and overmature. Although we measured significant variations of biological performances between the two populations, no significant effect of the age of the balsam fir trees could be detected for males from both populations or for females from the southern population. However, northern females were strongly affected by the age of balsam fir trees on which they fed, as their pupal weight was 12% higher and their fecundity increased by 27% on overmature trees compared with juvenile ones. These results indicate that under the same selective pressure, females adapt their strategy to maximize their fitness, and thus they appear as the driving force of evolution through the local adaptation concept. Furthermore, the two populations evolved in distinct habitats and their adaptation reflects selective pressures occurring inside their original environment. This is the first report on local adaptation of an herbivore that is mediated by host tree age. Changes in forest age structure may have a considerable impact on insect local adaptation and presumably on their population dynamics.