The Relationship Between Habitat Selection and Preference for Adult and Larval Food Resources in the Polyphagous Butterfly Vanessa cardui (Lepidoptera Nymphalidae)

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Search strategies can have profound fitness-effects for plant-feeding insects. Here I focus on the potential conflict between searching for nectar plants and for larval food plants. I test if the butterfly Vanessa cardui, which can use some of its larval food plants as nectar sources, is able to rationalize this search problem by combining the two search tasks. Lab-experiments revealed a higher oviposition preference for Cirsium arvense over Urtica dioica and a corresponding difference in larval performance. Contrary to predictions, there was no effect of inflorescences on oviposition. However, experiments in large outdoor cages showed a higher occupancy and a higher level of oviposition in patches with access to nectar sources, even on U. dioica. Hence, while there was no preference for individual plants with flowers, the results suggests that V. cardui is simplifying its search task to primarily search for hosts in nectar-rich patches. This strategy allows females to increase oviposition rate, but it is likely that it comes at the expense of not always using optimal host plants in terms of offspring performance.

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