Revisiting the evolution of ecological specialization, with emphasis on insect–plant interactions

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Ecological specialization is a fundamental and well-studied concept, yet its great reach and complexity limit current understanding in important ways. More than 20 years after the publication of D. J. Futuyma and G. Moreno's oft-cited, major review of the topic, we synthesize new developments in the evolution of ecological specialization. Using insect–plant interactions as a model, we focus on important developments in four critical areas: genetic architecture, behavior, interaction complexity, and macroevolution. We find that theory based on simple genetic trade-offs in host use is being replaced by more subtle and complex pictures of genetic architecture, and multitrophic interactions have risen as a necessary framework for understanding specialization. A wealth of phylogenetic data has made possible a more detailed consideration of the macroevolutionary dimension of specialization, revealing (among other things) bidirectionality in transitions between generalist and specialist lineages. Technological advances, including genomic sequencing and analytical techniques at the community level, raise the possibility that the next decade will see research on specialization spanning multiple levels of biological organization in non-model organisms, from genes to populations to networks of interactions in natural communities. Finally, we offer a set of research questions that we find to be particularly pressing and fruitful for future research on ecological specialization.



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