, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 469-482

Butterfly Host Plant Choice in the Face of Possible Confusion

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We tested predictions from the theory that ovipositing females of phytophagous insects are limited by their neural capacity for information processing. Previous studies have found that relatively specialized insects make faster and/or more accurate identifications of host plants compared to generalists. The study species was the polyphagous comma butterfly, Polygonia c-album (Nymphalidae). We compared females originating from two populations (Sweden and England) which differ in degree of specialization on the preferred host Urtica dioica (Urticaceae). Females were given a choice between this plant and a very similar nonhost, white dead nettle, Laminum album (Lamiacease), or a choice between a relatively poor host, Betuala pubescens, and the nonhost Betula pendula (Betulaceae). Oviposition rate was lower in cages with Betula compared to cages with Urtica, demonstrating that P. c-album females will withhold eggs when preferred hosts are not available. As predicted, females originating from the Swedish generalist population oviposited more often on the nonhost Lamium. However, females of both populations discriminated very strongly against oviposition on B. pendula. We found that newly hatched larvae have some ability to move from herbaceous nonhost to hosts. Although alternative interpretations are possible, the results give further support to the hypothesis that there are trade-offs between diet breadth and the ability to discriminate among plants.