, Volume 186, Issue 2, pp 483–493 | Cite as

Host-choice reduces, but does not eliminate, the negative effects of a multi-species diet for an herbivorous beetle

  • William C. WetzelEmail author
  • Jennifer S. Thaler
Plant-microbe-animal interactions - original research


A consequence of plant diversity is that it can allow or force herbivores to consume multiple plant species, which studies indicate can have major effects on herbivore fitness. An underappreciated but potentially important factor modulating the consequences of multi-species diets is the extent to which herbivores can choose their diets versus being forced to consume specific host-plant sequences. We examined how host-selection behavior alters the effects of multi-species diets using the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and diets of potato plants (Solanum tuberosum), tomato plants (S. lycopersicum), or both. When we gave beetles simultaneous access to both plants, allowing them to choose their diets, their final mass was within 0.1% of the average mass across both monocultures and 43.6% lower than mass on potato, the superior host in monoculture. This result indicates these beetles do not benefit from a mixed diet, and that the presence of tomato, an inferior but suitable host, makes it difficult to use potato. In contrast, when we forced beetles to switch between host species, their final mass was 37.8% less than the average of beetles fed constant diets of either host species and within 3.5% of the mass on tomato even though they also fed on potato. This indicates preventing host-selection behavior magnified the negative effects of this multi-species diet. Our results imply that ecological contexts that constrain host-selection or force host-switches, such as communities with competition or predation, will lead plant species diversity to reduce the performance of insect herbivores.


Herbivory Diet-mixing Diet-switching Plant diversity Leptinotarsa decemlineata Solanum 



We thank Anna Wilson, Nick Aflitto, and Zoe Getman-Pickering for help in the lab and thought-provoking discussion. We thank Jay Rosenheim and Mariah Meek for feedback on the manuscript. This work was funded by USDA NIFA 2014-67013-21785 and Federal Capacity Fund 2015-16-185.

Author contribution statement

WW and JT conceived and designed the studies. WW conducted the analyses and wrote the first draft. JT edited the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2017_4034_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (505 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 505 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Entomology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior ProgramMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of EntomologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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