Range-wide variations in common milkweed traits and their effect on monarch larvae.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Leaf economic spectrum (LES) theory has historically been employed to inform vegetation models of ecosystem processes, but largely neglects intraspecific variation and biotic interactions. We attempt to integrate across environment-plant trait-herbivore interactions within a species at a range-wide scale.


We measured traits in 53 populations spanning the range of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and used a common garden to determine the role of environment in driving patterns of intraspecific variation. We used a feeding trial to determine the role of plant traits in monarch (Danaus plexippus) larval development.


Trait-trait relationships largely followed interspecific patterns in LES theory and persisted in a common garden when individual traits change. Common milkweed showed intraspecific variation and biogeographic clines in traits. Clines did not persist in a common garden. Larvae ate more and grew larger when fed plants with more nitrogen. A longitudinal environmental gradient in precipitation corresponded to a resource gradient in plant nitrogen, which produces a gradient in larval performance.


Biogeographic patterns in common milkweed traits can sometimes be predicted from LES, are largely driven by environmental conditions, and have consequences for monarch larval performance. Changes to nutrient dynamics of landscapes with common milkweed could potentially influence monarch population dynamics. We show how biogeographic trends in intraspecific variation can influence key ecological interactions, especially in common species with large distributions.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • DeLaMater, DS; Couture, JJ; Puzey, JR; Dalgleish, HJ

Published Date

  • March 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 108 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 388 - 401

PubMed ID

  • 33792047

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-2197

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0002-9122

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/ajb2.1630


  • eng