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Does mother know best? The preference–performance hypothesis and parent–offspring conflict in aboveground–belowground herbivore life cycles


Scott N. Johnson, Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowie, Dundee, U.K. E-mail:


1. A substantial amount of research on host-plant selection by insect herbivores is focused around the preference–performance hypothesis (PPH). To date, the majority of studies have primarily considered insects with aboveground life cycles, overlooking insect herbivores that have both aboveground and belowground life stages, for which the PPH could be equally applicable.

2. This study investigated the factors influencing the performance of the root-feeding vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) larvae and whether this was linked to the oviposition behaviour of the maternal adult living aboveground.

3. Maternal insects feeding aboveground reduced root biomass by 34% and increased root carbon by 4%. Larvae feeding on plants subjected to aboveground herbivory had reduced mass. Irrespective of the presence of maternal herbivory, larval mass was positively correlated with root biomass.

4. Larval mass was also reduced by conspecific larvae, previously feeding on roots (19% reduction). However, the mechanism underpinning this effect remains unclear, as in contrast to maternal herbivory aboveground, prior larval feeding did not significantly affect root biomass or root carbon concentrations.

5. Maternal insects did not distinguish between plants infested with larvae and those that were free of larvae, in terms of their egg-laying behaviour. Conversely, maternal insects tended to lay eggs on plants with smaller root systems, a behaviour that is likely to negatively affect offspring performance.

6. The PPH is not supported by our findings for the polyphagous vine weevil feeding on the host plant raspberry (Rubus idaeus), and in fact our results suggest that there is the potential for strong parent–offspring conflict in this system.