Adaptive patterns of host-plant selection by phytophagous insects

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Host-plant selection by phytophagous insects is largely determined by adult insects choosing the developmental location of offspring. Knowledge of natural selection leads to theoretical predictions about how adult behaviour might respond to host quality, the abundance of host-plants, adult egg-load, age and available search time, density-dependence, and stochastic effects. Debates about the value of simple adaptive models can only be settled by repeated testing and reformulation. The theoretical basis of adaptive host selection is quite strong, but several challenges remain. Models are lacking which are both general enough to be applicable to a wide rang of species, and easy to test. The role of variability in plant abundance and other stochastic forces requires clarification. Empirically, good field studies of the effect of host-plants on insect fitness are rare, but without them little progress can be made. The assessment of host-preference also requires attention. Quantitative tests of theory are rare, probably because general models do not encompass enough relevant natural history for each particular species. However much anecdotal and qualitative evidence seems to reflect adaptive predictions. A challenge for the future is to assess the adaptive value of particular mechanisms of host-selection, and to relate these to the predictions made in simple adaptive models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-428
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1997

Cite this