• Key words;
  • Coleoptera;
  • Chrysomelidae;
  • Alticinae;
  • Rosaceae;
  • olfaction;
  • habitat persistence;
  • Skeppsvik Archipelago;
  • Filipendula ulmaria


It is generally assumed that specialist insect herbivores utilize plant odours to find their particular host plants and that visual cues are of minor importance in the host-finding process. We performed Y-tube olfactometer bioassays and small-scale field experiments to determine whether, under laboratory and field conditions, the monophagous herbivore Altica engstroemi J. Sahlberg (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Alticinae) is guided to its host plant Filipendula ulmaria (L.) Maxim. (Rosaceae) by visual or olfactory cues. The olfactometer tests showed that A. engstroemi was never attracted to odours, either from undamaged or from damaged plants. Even starvation for 24 h did not change this behaviour. However, the field experiment showed that visual cues alone were sufficient to attract a significant number of starved beetles when offered a choice between bagged host plants and bagged green plastic control ‘plants’. Our findings contrast with the general view that plant odours constitute the major cue in the host-finding process among specialized phytophagous insects. A review of the literature for the period 1986–2006 inclusive, relating to host-plant finding in Chrysomelidae, identified studies of 19 chrysomelid species, all of which were guided by olfactory cues. No species were guided to their host by visual cues. Although some studies demonstrated that chrysomelids may exhibit orientation responses to colour or contrast, our study on A. engstroemi is the only one demonstrating that visual cues affect host-plant selection in a chrysomelid species. We suggest that the use of visual cues in host-finding may evolve among chrysomelids with limited dispersal ability in persistent habitats and may be found among species monophagous on abundant host plants that dominate the structure of the plant community, that is, where the host plant's presence is predictable in time and space.