Wetzel WC, Thaler JS. Oecologia. 2018;186(2):483-493. doi: 10.1007/s00442-017-4034-x.

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.

Booth E, Alyokhin A, Pinatti S.  Insect Science. 2017;24(2):295-302. doi: 10.1111/1744-7917.12286.

Cannibalism, or intraspecific predation, can play a major role in changing individual fitness and population processes. In insects, cannibalism frequently occurs across life stages, with cannibals consuming a smaller or more vulnerable stage. Predation of adult insects on one another is considered to be uncommon. We investigated adult cannibalism in the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Say), which is an oligophagous herbivore specializing on plants in family Solanaceae, and an important agricultural pest. Under laboratory conditions, starvation and crowding encouraged teneral adults to feed upon each other, which reduced their weight loss during the period of starvation. However, pupae were attacked and consumed before adults. Injured beetles had a higher probability of being cannibalized than intact beetles. Males were more frequently attacked than females, but that appeared to be a function of their smaller size rather than other gender-specific traits. Cannibalizing eggs at a larval stage did not affect beetle propensity to cannibalize adults at an adult stage. When given a choice between conspecific adults and mealworms, the beetles preferred to eat conspecifics. Cannibalistic behavior, including adult cannibalism, could be important for population persistence in this species.

Tryjanowski P, Sparks TH, Blecharczyk A, Małecka-Jankowiak I, Switek S, Sawinska Z. American Journal of Potato Research. 2018;95(1):26-32. doi: 10.1007/s12230-017-9611-3.

Potato Solanum tuberosum is one of the world's four most important crops. Its cultivation is steadily increasing in response to the need to feed a growing world population. The yield of potato is influenced inter alia by both climate and pests. The main defoliator pest of potato is Colorado potato beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata. Using data from a long-term experiment (1958-2013) in western Poland, we show that increasing temperature has affected the trophic relationship between potato and Colorado potato beetle. The planting, leafing, flowering and harvest dates for potato were advanced, after controlling for different cultivars, by 2.00 days, 3.04 days, 3.80 days and 3.42 days respectively for every 1°C increase in temperature. In contrast, first treatment against Colorado potato beetle advanced by 4.66 days for every 1°C increase in temperature, and, furthermore, the number of treatments against the beetle increased by 0.204 per 1°C increase in temperature. This suggests that the beetle responds faster to increasing temperature than the plant does, but both parts of the system are probably greatly modified by farming practices.

Crossley MS, Pélissié B, Cohen Z, Schoville SD. Great Lakes Entomol. 2017;50(3):93-97.

Egg, larval, and adult life stages of Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Say), were observed feeding on or attached to a previously undocumented host plant belonging to the genus Chamaesaracha in eastern Colorado on July 2017. At one site, L. decemlineata were more abundant on Chamaesaracha sp. than the accepted ancestral host plant, Solanum rostratum (Dunal). While future studies should confirm the ancestral status of the observed L. decemlineata and suitability of Chamaesaracha sp. for completion of development, our observations suggest a need for further characterization of the ancestral host range of L. decemlineata.

Tigreros, N., Norris, R. H., Wang, E. H. and Thaler, J. S. (2017) Ecol Lett. doi:10.1111/ele.12752

Theory on condition-dependent risk-taking indicates that when prey are in poor condition, their anti-predator responses should be weak. However, variation in responses resulting from differences in condition is generally considered an incidental by-product of organisms living in a heterogeneous environment. Using Leptinotarsa decemlineata beetles and stinkbug (Podisus maculiventris) predators, we hypothesised that in response to predation risk, parents improve larval nutritional condition and expression of anti-predator responses by promoting intraclutch cannibalism. We showed that mothers experiencing predation risk increase production of unviable trophic eggs, which assures provisioning of an egg meal to the newly hatched offspring. Next, we experimentally demonstrated that egg cannibalism reduces L. decemlineata vulnerability to predation by improving larval nutritional condition and expression of anti-predator responses. Intraclutch cannibalism in herbivorous insects might be a ubiquitous strategy, aimed to overcome the dual challenge of feeding on protein-limited diets while living under constant predation threat.