Strong foraging preferences for Ribes alpinum (Saxifragales: Grossulariaceae) in the polyphagous caterpillars of Buff tip moth Phalera bucephala (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae)
Herbivorous insects such as butterflies and moths are essential to natural and agricultural systems due to pollination and pest outbreaks. However, our knowledge of butterflies' and moths' nutrition is fragmented and limited to few common, charismatic, or problematic species.
This gap precludes our complete understanding of herbivorous insects' natural history, physiological and behavioural adaptations that drive how species interact with their environment, the consequences of habitat destruction and climate change to invertebrate biodiversity, and pest outbreak dynamics.
Here, we first report a population of the Buff tip moth Phalera bucephala (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae) feeding on a previously unknown family of hostplants, the mountain currant Ribes alpinum (Saxifragales: Grossulariaceae). This is the first report of a Notodontid moth feeding on Grossulariaceae hosts.
Using no-choice and choice assays, we showed that P. bucephala has strong foraging preferences for a previously unknown hosts, the R. alpinum but also, although to a smaller extent, R. uva-crispa compared with a previously known host (the maple Acer sp.).
These findings demonstrate that P. bucephala feed on – and show strong preference for Grossulariaceae hostplants, indicating flexible physiological mechanisms to accommodate hosts plants from various families. This makes this species a potential model organism to study the behavioural and physiological mechanisms underpinning insect-plant interactions and diet breadth evolution.
We discuss the broad ecological implications of this observations to the biology of the species, the potential negative effects of interspecific competition with endemic specialist moths, and highlight questions for future research.
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Funding provided by: Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research Crossref Funder Registry ID: http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/100007398 Award Number: SwedNess