Where a female places her eggs can have a major impact on the fitness of her offspring, especially for insects in which the winged adults are far more mobile than the neonates. Larvae of Heliothis subfiexa (Guenee) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), a specialist moth phylogenetically nested within a generalist clade, feed only on fruit of some Physalis species. Field observations of the oviposition behavior of H. subfiexa revealed that 1) females laid most of their eggs on leaves of the Physalis plant, despite the larvae's frugivorous diet, and 2) females laid nearly 20% of the eggs on nonhost plant species. Most eggs oviposited on nonhosts were placed close to the host plant—88% were within 15 cm of the Physalis plant. However, in a study of neonate movement, we found that a distance of 2 cm from the hatch site to the host plant significantly decreased the ability of neonates to establish on the host plant. The estimated fitness cost, quantified as reduced neonate survival, for females ovipositing on nonhosts is 8–17%. Many ecological and evolutionary factors could result in oviposition on less suitable host parts and on nonhosts. One possibility is that specialization on Physalis has recently evolved in H. subfiexa, and females have not fully optimized their oviposition behavior. However, the fitness cost of oviposition on nonhosts may be balanced by fitness benefits of such behavior, such as faster decision-making and reduced predation.
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Vol. 40 • No. 6