Eur. J. Entomol. 110 (4): 599-604, 2013 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2013.081

Effect of host species on larval growth differs between instars: The case of a geometrid moth (Lepidoptera: Geometridae)

Helen VELLAU, Siiri-Lii SANDRE, Toomas TAMMARU
Department of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, Vanemuise 46, University of Tartu, EE-51014, Estonia; e-mails: helen.vellau@ut.ee; siiri-ly@ut.ee; toomas.tammaru@ut.ee

Although the effects of host plant quality on the performance of polyphagous herbivores are largely uniform across insect taxa, there are various exceptions to this rule. In particular, there are scattered reports of cases in which the relative quality of different hosts differs among larval instars of a single insect species. Such cases are explained either in terms of differences in the susceptibility of different aged larvae to plant defences or, alternatively, age-specific nutritional demands. Here we report the results of experiments that show that young larvae of the polyphagous common heath moth Ematurga atomaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) consistently attain higher weights on common heather Calluna vulgaris than bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus, whereas the rank order of these host plants is reversed in the final larval instar. Phytochemical analyses showed that differences in nutrient content of these plants are not likely to explain the observed pattern. Instead, the results are more consistent with the idea that the greater chemical defence of bilberry has a relatively stronger influence on young than old larvae.

Keywords: Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Ematurga atomaria, larval performance, body size, reaction norm, host plant quality, Calluna, Vaccinium

Received: January 30, 2013; Accepted: April 29, 2013; Prepublished online: October 1, 2013; Published: December 1, 2013

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