The Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica Newman, has an unusually broad host range among deciduous woody plants, yet it feeds only sparingly, or not at all, on certain species in the field. We evaluated beetles’ preference, survival over time and fecundity on eight woody plant species historically rated as susceptible or resistant and, after verifying those ratings, tested whether resistance is correlated with so-called quantitative defense traits including leaf toughness, low nutrient content (water, nitrogen, and sugars), and relatively high amounts of tannins or saponins, traditionally associated with such plants. We further tested whether species unsuitable for Japanese beetles are also rejected by fall webworms, Hyphantria cunea (Drury) (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae), the expected outcome if the aforementioned traits serve as broad-based defenses against generalists. Choice tests supported historical resistance ratings for the selected species: tuliptree, lilac, dogwood, and Bradford callery pear were rejected by Japanese beetles, whereas sassafras, cherry plum, Virginia creeper, and littleleaf linden were readily eaten. Rejected species also were unsuitable for survival over time, or egg-laying, indicating beetles’ inability to overcome the resistance factors through habituation, compensatory feeding, or detoxification. None of the aforementioned leaf traits was consistently higher or lower in the resistant or susceptible plants, and plant species rejected by Japanese beetles often were not rejected by fall webworms. Specialized secondary chemistry, not quantitative defenses, likely determines the Japanese beetle’s dietary range among deciduous woody plant species it may encounter.
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