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We develop a general theoretical framework for exploring the host plant selection behaviour of herbivorous insects. This model can be used to address a number of questions, including the evolution of specialists, generalists, preference hierarchies, and learning. We use our model to: (i) demonstrate the consequences of the extent to which the reproductive success of a foraging female is limited by the rate at which they find host plants (host limitation) or the number of eggs they carry (egg limitation); (ii) emphasize the different consequences of variation in behaviour before and after landing on (locating) a host (termed pre- and post-alighting, respectively); (iii) show that, in contrast to previous predictions, learning can be favoured in post-alighting behaviour--in particular, individuals can be selected to concentrate oviposition on an abundant low-quality host, whilst ignoring a rare higher-quality host; (iv) emphasize the importance of interactions between mechanisms in favouring specialization or learning.

Original publication




Journal article


J Theor Biol

Publication Date





499 - 513


Animals, Choice Behavior, Insecta, Models, Biological, Oviposition, Plants