, Volume 119, Issue 3, pp 427–434 | Cite as

Phylogenetic indices for measuring the diet breadths of phytophagous insects

  • Fernley B. Symons
  • George W. Beccaloni


Prevailing methods of measuring diet breadth of phytophagous insects are not consistent between studies and generally rely on counts of a variety of higher plant taxa (e.g. genera, families, orders). Results derived from them can be inconsistent if different taxonomic levels are used between studies. In any case, such indices do not include information from the whole branching structure of the host plant phylogeny, and do not address the fact that higher taxa are not necessarily phylogenetically equivalent. Here we present novel phylogeny-based methods which address these shortcomings. Although a previously proposed index (the Phylogenetic Diversity index) may be employed, it cannot be used to measure diets of strictly monophagous insects (i.e. those which utilise a single host species). We therefore introduce a modification of this index (the Root Phylogenetic Diversity index) which may be applied to all diets. In addition, we propose a Clade Dispersion index as a branch-length-independent measure of the degree to which hosts are scattered across the host phylogeny. We describe how these indices could be employed in studies of insect diet breadth and discuss potential problems which may be encountered in their use.

Key words Host plants Minimum spanning subtree Phylogenetic Diversity index 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fernley B. Symons
    • 1
  • George W. Beccaloni
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UKGB
  2. 2.Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD, UK e-mail:, Fax: +44-171-9388937GB

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