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Keywords:

  • Body size;
  • diet;
  • independent contrasts;
  • Lepidoptera;
  • phylogenetic comparative methods

Numerous studies have suggested a general relationship between the degree of host specialization and body size in herbivorous animals. In insects, smaller species are usually shown to be more specialized than larger-bodied ones. Various hypotheses have attempted to explain this pattern but rigorous proof of the body size–diet breadth relationship has been lacking, primarily because the scarceness of reliable phylogenetic information has precluded formal comparative analyses. Explicitly using phylogenetic information for a group of herbivores (geometrid moths) and their host plant range, we perform a comparative analysis to study the body size–diet breadth relationship. Considering several alternative measures of body size and diet breadth, our results convincingly demonstrate without previous methodological issues—a first for any taxon—a positive association between these traits, which has implications for evaluating various central aspects of the evolutionary ecology of herbivorous insects. We additionally demonstrate how the methods used in this study can be applied in assessing hypotheses to explain the body size–diet breadth relationship. By analyzing the relationship in tree-feeders alone and finding that the positive relationship remains, the result suggests that the body size–diet breadth relationship is not solely driven by the type of host plant that species feed on.