New paper: Prior experience changes food choice behaviour in beetle larvae

graphical abstract finalVrinda and Swastika’s paper on larval food choice behaviour in response to prior experience with new foods is out in Ecological Entomology!

Several decades ago, it was observed that the juvenile (or larval) stages of several insects change their feeding preference in response to prior experience (“induction of preference”). We explored this trait in the ecological context of a generalist insect. Using behavioural experiments and larval fitness measurements, we characterized the induction of preference in the generalist red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, whose natural habitat (stored grain warehouses) presents high heterogeneity in resource availability. We explored how the induction of preference in the larval stage affects feeding behaviour in temporally or spatially heterogenenous habitats.

As observed in previous studies, we found that the feeding preference of beetle larvae is highly plastic. We also found such plasticity under spatial and temporal resource heterogeneity, even when these resources were suboptimal. Interestingly, induction does not occur for a resource that decreases larval survival, but does occur for resources that decrease fitness in a less severe manner, by slowing down development rate. We think that such food preference induction may facilitate the expansion of this species’ dietary niche in unfamiliar habitats. If this is true, and if feeding preference is under selection in heterogeneous habitats, then this implies that generalists may often pay a cost of slow development in a novel resource, because the benefits of using the new resource outweigh the costs of specialization on only a few familiar resources.

For more details, read the paper.