The aim of this study was to relate nutritional and allelochemical variables in a living host plant to the feeding behavior of herbivorous insects in a field setting. We chose to Study the foraging behavior of individual folivorous weevils (Exophthalmus jekelianus) while they were feeding on Central American mahogany (Cedrela odorata) in plantation in Costa Rica. All leaves contacted by the weevils during each observation were subjected to chemical analysis, and the weevils' choice of leaves and their meal durations oil those leaves were examined with respect to leaf chemical composition. Leaves that contained limonoids (allelochemicals present in the leaves) had fewer meals taken on them than did leaves without limonoids. Regression analysis and factor analysis were employed to investigate associations between leaf chemistry and meal duration. Univariate regressions indicated significant associations between meal duration and sucrose concentration, and between meal duration and nitrogen concentration. Factor analysis indicated that soluble Sugars, nitrogen and limonoids were important variables that accounted for variation in meal duration. Sucrose and nitrogen concentrations were incorporated into a mathematical model that predicts the phagostimulatory power of foods in the context of the regulation of multiple nutrients. The model is shown to provide an effective framework for understanding the complex interactions among the chemical constituents of plants in determining foraging behaviour under field conditions.
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