Plant Choices Affect Performance in Tomato Leaf Miner Insects

Greg Howard
4th June, 2024

Plant Choices Affect Performance in Tomato Leaf Miner Insects

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study by the World Vegetable Center focused on the invasive pest Phthorimaea absoluta Meyrick in Asia, Africa, and Europe
  • Tomato was found to be the most preferred host plant for egg-laying, followed by potato, eggplant, and black nightshade
  • The survival and reproduction rates of P. absoluta were highest on tomato, supporting the preference-performance hypothesis
The evolution of oviposition preference in insects is a key strategy in host-plant interactions, where insects select specific plants to maximize the survival and fitness of their offspring. This concept, known as the "preference-performance hypothesis," was tested in a recent study by the World Vegetable Center on Phthorimaea absoluta Meyrick, an invasive pest affecting crops in Asia, Africa, and Europe[1]. The study aimed to determine whether adult host preference in P. absoluta aligns with the performance of their immature stages. Researchers selected six Solanaceae species—tomato, potato, eggplant, black nightshade, sweet pepper, and tobacco—for oviposition preference experiments. The findings revealed that tomato was the most preferred host in various choice assays, followed by potato, eggplant, and black nightshade. Additionally, life-table parameters, which include metrics like survival rate and reproduction, were superior on tomato compared to other hosts. This strong correlation between oviposition preference and life-table parameters provides clear evidence supporting the preference-performance hypothesis in P. absoluta. These results align with earlier findings on host-plant interactions in other insect species. For instance, a study on Tuta absoluta, another pest affecting tomato plants, showed that female moths preferred to lay eggs on intact plants rather than those damaged by larvae. This preference is likely due to the emission of specific volatile compounds by damaged plants, which signal the presence of herbivores and deter further oviposition[2]. Similarly, the current study on P. absoluta demonstrates that females choose hosts that optimize the survival and performance of their offspring, reinforcing the notion that host selection is a critical evolutionary strategy. The preference-performance hypothesis suggests that the range of host plants an insect uses is limited by the costs associated with feeding on multiple resources. This hypothesis was explored in a study on Pieris butterflies, which found that neither specialist nor generalist species showed a significant link between female host preference and offspring performance. However, the current study on P. absoluta provides a contrasting perspective by showing a strong correlation between host preference and offspring performance, thereby supporting the preference-performance hypothesis more robustly[3]. Additionally, the "mother knows best" principle posits that female insects prefer to lay eggs on hosts that increase offspring survival. This principle was supported by research on Cephaloleia beetles, which found that oviposition preferences were generally associated with hosts that enhance larval survival, female fecundity, and population growth. The findings from the P. absoluta study further validate this principle, as the most preferred host (tomato) also provided the best life-table parameters for the offspring[4]. The study emphasizes the importance of understanding oviposition behavior in different geographic locations to develop effective integrated pest management (IPM) programs. By identifying the most preferred host plants and understanding the factors driving these preferences, researchers can devise targeted strategies to control pest populations and minimize crop damage. This approach is crucial for managing invasive pests like P. absoluta, which pose significant threats to agricultural productivity. In summary, the research conducted by the World Vegetable Center provides compelling evidence for the preference-performance hypothesis in P. absoluta. The study's findings highlight the importance of host-plant selection in maximizing offspring survival and fitness, and they underscore the need for tailored IPM programs based on regional oviposition behavior. These insights contribute to a deeper understanding of host-plant interactions and offer practical solutions for managing invasive insect pests.

AgriculturePlant ScienceAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Host plant selection is linked to performance in Phthorimaea absoluta (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae).

Published 2nd June, 2024

Related Studies

2) Electrophysiological and Oviposition Responses of Tuta absoluta Females to Herbivore-Induced Volatiles in Tomato Plants.

Journal: Journal of chemical ecology, Issue: Vol 44, Issue 3, Mar 2018

3) Decoupling of female host plant preference and offspring performance in relative specialist and generalist butterflies.

4) Parent-offspring conflicts, "optimal bad motherhood" and the "mother knows best" principles in insect herbivores colonizing novel host plants.

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