We characterized a plant–caterpillar food web from secondary vegetation in a New Guinean rain forest that included 63 plant species (87.5% of the total basal area), 546 Lepidoptera species and 1679 trophic links between them. The strongest 14 associations involved 50% of all individual caterpillars while some links were extremely rare. A caterpillar randomly picked from the vegetation will, with ≥ 50% probability, (1) feed on one to three host plants (of the 63 studied), (2) feed on < 20% of local plant biomass and (3) have ≥ 90% of population concentrated on a single host plant species. Generalist species were quantitatively unimportant. Caterpillar assemblages on locally monotypic plant genera were distinct, while sympatric congeneric hosts shared many caterpillar species. The partitioning of the plant–caterpillar food web thus depends on the composition of the vegetation. In secondary forest the predominant plant genera were locally monotypic and supported locally isolated caterpillar assemblages.