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While the reasons for the prevalence of specialists over generalists among herbivorous insects have been at the focus of much interest, less effort has been put into understanding the polyphagous exceptions. Recent studies have suggested that these exceptions may be important for insect diversification, which calls for a better understanding of the potential factors that can lead to an increased host plant repertoire. Females of the Nymphalid butterfly, Polygonia c-album, were used to test if egg output and/or likelihood of finding a host increased with the addition of a secondary host. There was no effect of prior eggs on the host for willingness to oviposit on a plant. The main experiments were conducted both in small laboratory cages and in large outdoor experimental arenas. No positive effect was found when another oviposition target was added in small cages in the laboratory. On the other hand, in the outdoor arenas the females more often found a host to oviposit on and had a higher egg output when they had access to an additional host, even though the second host was lower in their preference hierarchy. The difference between these experiments was attributed to searching for acceptable host plants within a patch, a factor that was included in the large cages but not in the small. When host availability is limited, adding oviposition targets can potentially act to counterbalance specialization and thus favor the evolution of generalization.
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