Local adaptation in adult feeding preference and juvenile performance in the generalist herbivore <i>Idotea balthica</i>
Populations can respond to environmental heterogeneity by genetic adaptation to local conditions. Evidence for local adaptation in herbivores with relatively broad host breadth is scarce, either because generalists rarely locally adapt or because fewer studies have tested for local adaptation. The marine isopod Idotea balthica , a small (<3 cm) generalist herbivore common to estuaries of the northwestern Atlantic, is found on multiple macroalgae and sea grasses north of 42°N, while more southerly populations utilize sea grass-dominated and macroalgal-poor habitats. Feeding preference assays revealed a latitudinal shift in preference hierarchy that mirrors this geographic variation in host availability. Northern populations have higher feeding preference for fresh and freeze-dried tissue of the brown macroalga Fucus vesiculosus and consumed more of its water-soluble and lipophilic extracts relative to southern populations. In contrast, southern populations have a relatively higher preference for the green macroalga Ulva linza and sea grass Zostera marina . The rank of hosts in feeding assays exhibited by northern adults ( Fucus = Ulva > Zostera ) and southern adults ( Ulva > Fucus > Zostera ) closely mirrored ranking of juvenile growth rates, suggesting that preference and performance are strongly correlated across these macrophytes. Several of our assays included isopods that had parents reared under uniform laboratory conditions, indicating that geographic differences are genetically mediated and unlikely to reflect phenotypic plasticity or maternal effects. Local adaptation in host use traits may be common in broadly distributed, generalist herbivores in marine and terrestrial systems, and will manifest itself as local shifts in the preference ranking of hosts.