Eur. J. Entomol. 112 (2): 251-258, 2015 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2015.030

Nutrient-specific food selection buffers the effect of nutritional imbalance in the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae)

Myung Suk RHO, Kwang Pum LEE*
Department of Agricultural Biotechnology, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-921, Republic of Korea; e-mails: kwanglee@snu.ac.kr; goldsky2000@snu.ac.kr

Ingesting nutritionally imbalanced food can cause a significant reduction in fitness in insects. Insects can avoid the negative consequences of nutritional imbalances by selectively foraging for nutritionally complementary foods. We investigated the ability of the omnivorous beetle, Tenebrio molitor (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae), to redress nutritional imbalances by selecting complementary foods. Beetles were fed one of three synthetic diets that varied in their protein: carbohydrate balance (p0:c42, p21:c21 or p42:c0) for 16 days and then allowed to select between two nutritionally imbalanced but complementary diets (p0:c42 vs. p42:c0) for 18 days. During the initial period, beetle survival was high on all three experimental diets, but their body composition was considerably skewed as a result of eating nutritionally imbalanced diets. Over the first 6 days of food choice (days 16-22), beetles previously fed a protein-rich, carbohydrate-deficient diet (p42:c0) preferred carbohydrate to protein, whereas those previously fed a carbohydrate-rich, protein-deficient diet (p0:c42) strongly preferred the protein-rich diet. When the food choice period continued for longer than 6 days, the selection of diets by previously carbohydrate-deprived beetles (p42:c0) was similar to that of the control beetles previously fed an optimal food (p21:c21). However, beetles that were previously fed on the protein-deficient diet (p0:c42) selected protein and carbohydrate equally throughout the remaining period of food choice and the cumulative protein-carbohydrate intake of these protein-deprived beetles was similar to that of those fed the optimal diet (p21:c21). At the end of the experiment, the body composition of all beetles was similar, indicating that the effects of nutritional imbalance on body composition were buffered by the subsequent selection of complementary foods. Our results demonstrate that T. molitor beetles are capable of redressing nutritional imbalances and indicate that the way in which the nutritional balance of beetles is restored depends on the nutrient that is initially deficient in their food.

Keywords: Coleoptera, Tenebrionidae, Tenebrio molitor, mealworm, carbohydrate, compensation, feeding behaviour, foraging, macronutrient, nutrient balancing, protein

Received: August 20, 2014; Accepted: November 18, 2014; Prepublished online: January 22, 2015; Published: April 2, 2015

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