The influence of leaf age on the oviposition preference of Chrysophtharta bimaculata (Olivier) and the establishment of neonates.
The degree of discrimination shown by a herbivore when selecting oviposition sites has been suggested as a key factor to understanding herbivore population dynamics. Chrysophtharta bimaculata (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) is a primary pest of Tasmanian eucalypt forests and can cause severe defoliation. Previous work suggests that females show discrimination when selecting oviposition sites. Our aim was to test the degree of oviposition discrimination exhibited by C. bimaculata with regards to leaf toughness, a character that is critical to neonate survival, of Eucalyptus regnans, E. delegatensis and E. nitens. We conducted an experiment examining the leaf toughness critical for neonate survival and found that significant larval mortality occurs above a toughness of 46.9 g. We also determined that the maximum toughness of leaves upon which larvae established in the field was 48.2 g, supporting the laboratory result. Field (Southern Forests, Tasmania [date not given]) surveys showed that although the majority of eggs were laid on leaves suitable for larval establishment, many eggs were laid on unsuitable, tougher leaves. However, all eggs were normally placed within 20 cm of suitable leaves and glasshouse trials demonstrated the neonates could move this distance without mortality occurring. We conclude that egg batch distribution and larval performance of C. bimaculata will influence the population dynamics of C. bimaculata in two ways. Firstly, the availability of expanding/newly expanding leaves of eucalypt hosts will determine larval carrying capacity. Secondly, at a more localized level, the deposition of large numbers of egg batches on both suitable and unsuitable leaves followed by successful neonate migration increases the risk of resource depletion and poor larval development.