Herbivorous insects have evolved counteradaptations to overcome the chemical defenses of their host plants. This study examined patterns of host plant use and insect counteradaptation in three Pieris butterfly species across Japan. It found that both genes play different roles in diverting host plant chemical defense.
Herbivorous insects have evolved counteradaptations to overcome the chemical defenses of their host plants. Several of these counteradaptations have been elucidated at the molecular level, in particular for insects specialized on cruciferous host plants. While the importance of these counteradaptations for host plant colonization is well established, little is known about their microevolutionary dynamics in the field. In this study, we examine patterns of host plant use and insect counteradaptation in three Pieris butterfly species across Japan. The larvae of these butterflies express nitrile-specifier protein (NSP) and its paralog major allergen (MA) in their gut to overcome the highly diversified glucosinolate-myrosinase defense system of their cruciferous host plants. Pieris napi and Pieris melete colonize wild Brassicaceae whereas Pieris rapae typically uses cultivated Brassica as a host, regardless of the local composition of wild crucifers. As expected, NSP and MA diversity was independent of the local composition of wild Brassicaceae in P. rapae. In contrast, NSP diversity correlated with local host plant diversity in both species that preferred wild Brassicaceae. P. melete and P. napi both revealed two distinct major NSP alleles, which shaped diversity among local populations, albeit with different evolutionary trajectories. In comparison, MA showed no indication for local adaptation. Altogether, MA appeared to be evolutionary more conserved than NSP, suggesting that both genes play different roles in diverting host plant chemical defense.