• Adaptive learning;
  • experience;
  • Tetranychus urticae;
  • preference–performance relationship;
  • tomato;
  • cucumber;
  • phytophagous arthropod;
  • evolution of specialization;
  • host race formation

Although many publications deal with the effects of experience on behaviour, adaptive learning (i.e. behavioural change with experience resulting in improved reproductive success) is poorly documented. We present direct evidence that learning of host preference improves fitness in the herbivorous mite, Tetranychus urticae. Individual mites from two strains were repeatedly given a choice between two host plants, tomato and cucumber, and then subjected to a performance test on each. For both strains, food experience affected the subsequent choice: individual mites learned to prefer cucumber over tomato. The performance test showed this effect to be adaptive, as the food plant the mites learned to prefer (cucumber) allowed for increased oviposition, survival and development. These findings have important implications for the interpretation of the preference–performance relationship among herbivorous arthropods. The frequently reported absence of such a relationship may be due to experience-dependent preference and/or performance.