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Insect Food Choice

April 14, 2009

Eating just one type of plant helps insects avoid information overload.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Why insects are picky eaters…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Lots of insects specialize in eating just one type of food. For example, some garden aphids only eat roses, even when there are plenty of other nutritious plants around. This finicky behavior has been hard for biologists to explain, says Colin Tosh, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds’ Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology. To understand this better, he and his colleagues used computers to model the behavior of insects when they’re faced with many choices of things to eat.

COLIN TOSH (University of Leeds):
What our model has shown is that specializing to avoid confusion occurs under extremely realistic environmental conditions.

HIRSHON:
Tosh says many insects evolved to focus on just one type of plant to avoid eating the wrong thing. Too many choices could also cause insects to spend more time foraging, increasing their chances of getting eaten themselves. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.