Utilization of a novel plant host by herbivorous insects requires coordination of numerous physiological and behavioral adaptations in both larvae and adults. The recent host range expansion of the crucifer-specialist diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella
L. (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), to the sugar pea crop in Kenya provides an opportunity to study this process in action. Previous studies have shown that larval ability to grow and complete development on sugar pea is genetically based, but that females of the pea-adapted strain do not prefer to oviposit on pea. Here we examine larval preference for the novel host plant. Larvae of the newly evolved pea-adapted host strain were offered the choice of the novel host plant sugar pea and the original host cabbage. These larvae significantly preferred pea, while in contrast, all larvae of a cabbage-adapted DBM strain preferred cabbage. However, pea-adapted larvae, which were reared on cabbage, also preferred cabbage. Thus both genetic differences and previous exposure affect larval host choice, while adult choice for the novel host has not yet evolved.
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