A Bird in the Hand Versus Two in the Bush? The Specialist Leafhopper Dalbulus maidis (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) Does Not Discriminate Against Sub-optimal Host Plants (Zea spp.).
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The corn leafhopper [Dalbulus maidis (DeLong & Wolcott)] is a specialist on Zea (Poaceae) that coevolved with maize (Zea mays mays) and its teosinte (Zea spp.) relatives. This study tested the hypothesis that host acceptance by females varies among Zea hosts, and is correlated with variation in defensive levels across those hosts. Prior studies revealed differences in plant defenses among Zea hosts and corresponding differences in corn leafhopper performance. Thus, host acceptance was expected to be correlated with defensive levels and offspring performance across Zea hosts, following the hypothesis that offspring performance mediates host preference. In parallel, host acceptance was expected to be correlated with transitions in life history strategy (perennial to annual life cycle), domestication status (wild to domesticated), and breeding intensity (landrace to hybrid variety) in Zea because variation in defensive levels and corn leafhopper performance were shown in prior studies to be correlated with those transitions. The study's hypotheses were tested by comparing, under no-choice conditions, host acceptance by corn leafhopper of a suite of Zea hosts encompassing those transitions: perennial teosinte (Zea diploperennis), Balsas teosinte (Zea mays parviglumis), and landrace and commercial hybrid maize. The results did not show differences in host acceptance for oviposition or feeding among the hosts. Thus, under no-choice conditions, all Zea hosts may be similarly acceptable for feeding and oviposition, despite marked ovipositional preferences under choice conditions and poorer offspring performance on teosintes relative to maize shown previously. The results suggested also that oviposition frequency per plant by females was not correlated with their offspring's performance.