Maladaptive host choice by an alien leaf miner Phyllonorycter leucographella (Lepidoptera: Gracillariidae) has the potential to limit its invasiveness.
Alien phytophagous insects are often introduced along with their host plants, creating opportunities for troublesome invasions. Yet, not all of them are able to successfully colonize novel host plants. In this study, we investigated host selection by the alien leaf miner Phyllonorycter leucographella (Zeller, 1850) on both its original host and novel host plants in the insect's alien range. We predicted that this insect's percentage infestation of the original host would be positively related to its specific leaf area (SLA), because high-SLA leaves are nutritious and have thin cuticles, traits related to high offspring developmental success. We further hypothesized that this host selection process would apply in the selection of novel host plants. Our results show that this leaf miner selects leaves of its original host plant, Pyracantha coccinea, according to their SLA values. The SLA value was also positively related to the probability of P. leucographella infesting and successfully developing on novel host plants. The selection of high-SLA plants by the moth leads to a high developmental success on novel host plants in the first (summer) generation, but it is likely to be maladaptive in the second (overwintering) generation, because in temperate Europe, high SLA values are associated with deciduous plants that shed their leaves in autumn. It is likely that the apparent maladaptive selection of novel host plants by P. leucographella reduces the invasiveness of this pest by preventing its establishment on native plants.