Three hundred and fifty generations of extreme food specialisation: testing predictions of nutritional ecology Academic Article uri icon


  • We used a strain of diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella L. (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), that had been reared for approximately 350 generations in a precisely characterised environment to test hypotheses regarding the influence of nutritional heterogeneity on the evolution of nutrient regulatory responses. Caterpillars were maintained with ad libitum access to a diet that emulated that of an extreme nutritional specialist, comprising a homogeneous food of fixed nutrient composition. We measured performance (survival, development rate, and pupal mass), as well as the protein and carbohydrate intake of individual caterpillars confined to one of a range of single foods differing in their protein, carbohydrate, and water content. In a separate experiment, we measured the amount and balance of protein and carbohydrate self-selected by caterpillars presented with nutritionally complementary foods. Results showed a close fit with three of four predictions about the nutritional responses of 'nutrient specialist' feeders: (1) survival, development rate, and pupal mass were highest for animals given diets with the protein:carbohydrate composition of the ancestral culture diet, and dropped off sharply with higher and lower protein:carbohydrate balance, (2) caterpillars coped poorly with dietary dilution by water, irrespective of the macronutrient balance, and (3) the self-selected intake point corresponded with the macronutrient balance that gave peak performance (i.e., that of the ancestral culture diet). The fourth prediction, that caterpillars would be disinclined to over-ingest nutrients on imbalanced diets, was at best weakly met. We hypothesise that the evolution and maintenance of the specialist strategy might, paradoxically, require some degree of environmental heterogeneity. 2009 The Netherlands Entomological Society.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Warbrick-Smith, J., Raubenheimer, D., Simpson, S. J., & Behmer, S. T.

citation count

  • 38

complete list of authors

  • Warbrick-Smith, James||Raubenheimer, David||Simpson, Stephen J||Behmer, Spencer T

publication date

  • July 2009