Polyphagy and primary host plants: oviposition preference versus larval performance in the lepidopteran pest Helicoverpa armigera
Oviposition preference and several measures of offspring performance of Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) were investigated on a subset of its host plants that were selected for their reputed importance in the field in Australia. They included cotton, pigeon pea, sweet corn, mungbean, bean and common sowthistle. Plants were at their flowering stage when presented to gravid female moths. Flowering pigeon pea evoked far more oviposition than did the other plant species and was the most preferred plant for neonate larval feeding. It also supported development of the most robust larvae and pupae, and these produced the most fecund moths. Common sowthistle and cotton were equally suitable to pigeon pea for larval development, but these two species received far fewer H. armigera eggs than did pigeon pea. Mungbean also received relatively few eggs, but it did support intermediate measures of larval growth and survival. Fewest eggs were laid on bean and it was also the least beneficial in terms of larval growth. Among the host plant species tested, only flowering pigeon pea supported a good relationship between oviposition preference of H. armigera and its subsequent offspring performance. Australian H. armigera moths are thus consistent with Indian H. armigera moths in their ovipositional behaviour and larval performance relative to pigeon pea. The results suggest that the host recognition and acceptance behaviour of this species is fixed across its geographical distribution and they support the theory that pigeon pea might be one of the primary host plants of this insect. These insights, together with published results on the sensory responses of the females to volatiles derived from the different host plant species tested here, help to explain why some plant species are primary targets for the ovipositing moths whereas others are only secondary targets of this polyphagous pest, which has a notoriously broad host range.