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Keywords:

  • environmental variability;
  • geographic range size;
  • herbivory;
  • endophagy;
  • host quality;
  • host specificity;
  • latitude;
  • phylogeny

Within a geographic assemblage, large-bodied species of macrolepidopteran moths tend, on average, to be less host-specific than small-bodied. Five possible explanations for this pattern are identified, based respectively on (i) phylogenetic relationships between species, (ii) latitudinal gradients in body size and feeding specificity, (iii) the relationship between range size and body size, (iv) larger body size as a buffer from environmental variation, and (v) the relationship between endophagous host associations and small body size. These mechanisms are tested using data for British macrolepidoptera and also evaluated using evidence from the literature at large. Although some of their assumptions are found to be justified, there is no significant support for any single mechanism. This lack of evidence for previously proposed mechanisms is discussed in the light of a recently proposed alternative explanation which combines theories of host quality and host defence mechanisms.