Choosy mothers pick challenging plants: Maternal preference and larval performance of a specialist herbivore are not linked.

Hufnagel M, Schilmiller AL, Ali J, Szendrei Z. Ecol Entomol. 2017;42(1):33-41.

Maternal preference is a dynamic process and interactions between preference and performance are fundamental for understanding evolutionary ecology and host association in insect-plant interactions. In the present study, the hypothesis of preference-performance was tested by offering solanaceous specialist Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Say) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) larvae and adult females four plant congeners that ranged in suitability. Larval feeding, development, oviposition, plant glycoalkaloids, and headspace volatiles in the four plant species were analysed to examine the extent of variation, which might explain performance-preference differences. It was found that larval performance was mismatched with adult oviposition preferences. Adults laid more eggs on Solanum immite Dunal plants, which were poor hosts for larval development, feeding, and survival, compared to the other three Solanum species. Chemical plant defenses, in general, did not correlate with performance or preference, but some plant volatiles may have played a role in resolving female choice. Glycoalkaloids such as solanine and chaconine were detected in similar amounts in preferred and non-preferred hosts, but there was significantly more limonene in the headspace of S. immite than in S. tuberosum L. The present findings suggest that we must consider the risk-spreading hypothesis in cases where preference and performance are not positively correlated, particularly in specialist herbivores that can feed on a diversity of congener plants and may attempt to expand their exploits to other solanaceae species.