The potential evolutionary impact of invasive balloon vines on native soapberry bugs in South Africa
Le Roux, J.J.
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Following their establishment in new communities, invasive species may cause evolutionary changes in resident native species. This is clearly true for phytophagous insects, which may adapt rapidly when utilising abundant and widespread introduced hosts. The balloon vines Cardiospermum halicacabum and C. grandiflorum were introduced to South Africa approximately 100 years ago and are classified as minor and major weeds, respectively. Here we assess the potential evolutionary impact of these vines on native Leptocoris soapberry bug populations in Kruger National Park (KNP), using phylogenetic and morphometric analyses. We found that soapberry bugs associated with C. halicacabum are genetically and morphologically distinct from those associated with C. grandiflorum. This suggests that native soapberry bugs in KNP exhibit some degree of host preference, indicating that these vines may have had significant evolutionary consequences for these insects. The proboscis length of soapberry bugs feeding on C. halicacabum closely matched fruit size, often being longer than fruit size at the population level. These soapberry bugs are therefore well-suited to feeding on this introduced plant species.