, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 433-452

Absence of Learning and Local Specialization on Host Plant Selection by Heliconius erato

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Abstract

There is considerable interspecific variation in larval host plants (Passifloraceae) used among Heliconius erato (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) populations. This study evaluates the role of learning and the influence of interspecific variation in host plant attributes on such local specialization in H. erato host plant choices. Experiments were conducted under laboratory, insectary, and field conditions, with the two most widely used host plants in southern Brazil (Passiflora suberosa Linnaeus and Passiflora misera Humbold, Bonpland et Kunth). Larval feeding preference and induction were evaluated through choice tests for all instars. Oviposition was evaluated in relation to host plant preference, Hopkins host-selection principle, and conditioning time (for 3, 7, 11, or 15 days). Also, oviposition choice was tested regarding density, intemode length, and presence of intact terminal bud on P. suberosa and P. misera shoots. Both larvae and adults of H. erato phyllis showed preference for P. misera compared to P. suberosa, under all conditions. Larval feeding preference could not be induced for most instars. The Hopkins’ effect was not detected and oviposition choice could not be conditioned. Females alternated use of host plant species as a function of variation in either density or presence of terminal buds on shoots. Thus, our data indicate host plant preference in H. erato phyllis is not learned but innate. Therefore, we concluded that variation in local use of host plant by this butterfly in southern Brazil results from qualitative and quantitative variation of the passion vine species.