1. Epidemiological theory predicts that vector preference for hosts differing in infection status (i.e. healthy or infected) affects disease dynamics.
2. Numerous studies have documented strong vector preference for or discrimination against infected hosts. However, the significance of these behaviours for pathogen transmission and spread has been poorly described.
3. We conducted a series of choice assays to evaluate orientation preference, feeding preference, and movement rates of an important group of vectors, the sharpshooter leafhoppers, based on host infection status for the generalist plant pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa Wells et al.
4. Sharpshooters did not discriminate between healthy versus infected-but-asymptomatic grapevines, but they oriented preferentially to healthy grapevines more frequently than either symptomatic vines or those artificially coloured to mimic disease symptoms.
5. In a field trial three sharpshooter species showed different movement rates and preferences for feeding site, but all species exhibited similar and significant preference for healthy hosts.
6. Although there was no significant difference in acquisition efficiency among vector species, those individuals that spent more time on healthy hosts tended to be less likely to acquire the pathogen.
7. These results suggest that sharpshooters discriminate against infected grapevines, which are likely to be of poorer quality, with visual cues playing a role in host selection. Preference by these vectors may affect pathogen acquisition, which could affect disease spread in the field.