1. Imprinting and rearing on alternative host-plant species over several generations may affect performance and preferences of herbivorous insects. In this study, the adjustment potential to alternative hosts was investigated in the oligophagous beetle Phaedon cochleariae (F.) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).
2. A population that had been reared for several generations on Brassica rapa was split and transferred to either one of the alternative Brassicaceae species, Sinapis alba and Nasturtium officinale, or was kept on B. rapa for continuous rearing. After 10 generations, a subset of the Sinapis and Nasturtium populations was tested again on the original host species, B. rapa. Larval performance and adult preferences were tested.
3. In the second generation, beetles performed better (higher body mass and faster larval development) on B. rapa than on the two alternative species. No evidence for imprinting was found. After 10 generations of selection on the alternative plant species, the performance of the beetles on these species improved. This effect was more pronounced on S. alba than on N. officinale. However, the performance on B. rapa after 10 generations of selection on the alternative species was unaffected, and was nearly equal to the insects kept continuously on B. rapa, with slight deviations only in the lines selected on N. officinale.
4. Most females preferred to oviposit on B. rapa independent of their experience, suggesting a genetic fixation and/or a positive relationship between larval performance and adult preference. Preferences may have been also driven by physical leaf characteristics.