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Research article2010Peer reviewed

Mother really knows best: host choice of adult phytophagous insect females reflects a within-host variation in suitability as larval food

Wennström, Anders; Hjulström, Lena Niemi; Hjältén, Joakim; Julkunen-Tiitto, Riitta


Non-random distribution patterns of specialized phytophagous insects on their hosts may depend on intraspecific differences in plant tissue quality, including nutrients and secondary compounds. Secondary compounds are involved in plant resistance, but are also important for the recognition and acceptability of plants as resources by specialized insects. If individuals within a plant species vary in their content of such secondary substances, there may also be qualitative differences between them. In such cases, natural selection will favor insects with the ability to distinguish and prefer the more suitable plants. In Sweden, the leaf beetle Gonioctena linnaeana Schrank (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae) is highly specialized on one host, the native willow Salix triandra L (Salicaceae). Field observations reveal that some host plants in a population harbor many feeding larvae, causing severe defoliation, whereas neighboring plants may have few or no feeding larvae. Our hypothesis is that the distribution pattern of G. linnaeana larvae in this population results from qualitative differences between individual host plants in combination with the ability of G. linnaeana females to distinguish between plants that are suitable and not suitable for offspring performance. We examine whether larval survival differs depending on diet and whether the content of secondary chemical compounds explains female preference. Based on the higher survival rate of larvae reared on leaves from preferred hosts, we conclude that G. linnaeana females have evolved a behavior that maximizes offspring performance and thus positively affects female fitness. A chemical survey of the plants indicates that luteolin-7-glucoside and an unidentified flavonoid are important for separating the preferred from the non-preferred plants.


Secondary compounds; Host choice; Food choice; Salix triandra; Gonioctena linnaeana

Published in

2010, Volume: 20, number: 1, pages: 35-42