Background Understanding adaptation involves establishing connections between selective agents and beneficial population responses. However, relatively little attention has been paid to seasonal adaptation, in part, because it requires complex and integrative knowledge about seasonally fluctuating environmental factors, the effects of variable phenology on exposure to those factors, and evidence for temporal specialization. In the European corn borer moth, Ostrinia nubilalis, sympatric pheromone strains exploit the same host plant (Zea mays) but may genetically differ in phenology and be reproductively “isolated by time.” Z strain populations in eastern North America have been shown to have a prolonged larval diapause and produce one annual mating flight (July), whereas E strain populations complete an earlier (June) and a later (August) mating flight by shortening diapause duration. Here, we find evidence consistent with seasonal “adaptation by time” between these ecotypes. Results We use 12 years of field observation of adult seasonal abundance to estimate phenology of ecotype life cycles and to quantify life-stage specific climatic conditions. We find that the observed reduction of diapause duration in the E strain leads their non-diapausing, active life stages to experience a ~ 4 °C colder environment compared to the equivalent life stages in the Z strain. For a representative pair of populations under controlled laboratory conditions, we compare life-stage specific cold tolerance and find non-diapausing, active life stages in the E strain have as much as a 60% greater capacity to survive rapid cold shock. Enhanced cold hardiness appears unrelated to life-stage specific changes in the temperature at which tissues freeze. Conclusions Our results suggest that isolation by time and adaptation by time may both contribute to population divergence, and they argue for expanded study in this species of allochronic populations in nature experiencing the full spectrum of seasonal environments. Cyclical selective pressures are inherent properties of seasonal habitats. Diverse fluctuating selective agents across each year (temperature, predation, competition, precipitation, etc.) may therefore be underappreciated drivers of biological diversity.
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Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences (COS)
Wadsworth, C.B., Okada, Y. & Dopman, E.B. Phenology-dependent cold exposure and thermal performance of Ostrinia nubilalis ecotypes. BMC Evol Biol 20, 34 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-020-1598-6
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