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Exp Appl Acarol. 2003;30(4):233-47.

Adaptive learning in arthropods: spider mites learn to distinguish food quality.

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Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, PO Box 94084, 1090 GB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Many herbivorous arthropods have been shown to possess learning capabilities, yet fitness effects of learning are largely unknown. In this paper, we test whether two-spotted spider mites (Tetranychus urticae) learn to distinguish food quality in choice tests, and whether this results in fitness benefits. Food consisted of cucumber plants with one of three degrees of feeding damage: undamaged (no mites), mildly damaged (infested by a mite strain adapted to tomato) and heavily damaged (infested by a mite strain adapted to cucumber). Mites were subjected to one choice test in a greenhouse and three sequential choice tests on leaf disks. Thereafter, individual mite performance was measured as oviposition rate over four days. In the course of the three small-scale choice tests, preference shifted towards less damaged food. The performance tests showed that learning was adaptive: mites learned to prefer the food type that yielded the higher oviposition rate. Interestingly, innate preferences in the greenhouse tests were close to those shown after learning in the small-scale tests. Given that both strains of mites had not experienced cucumber for several years, we hypothesize that the preference in the greenhouse was due to avoidance of mite odours rather than odours of damaged plants. Through its effect on foraging behaviour, adaptive learning may promote the evolution of host plant specialization in herbivorous arthropods.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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