Resources are often unevenly distributed through the environment, resulting in a challenging task for insects to locate food, mates and oviposition sites. Consequently, there is an ongoing need to unravel how insects rely on behavioural and sensory traits while searching for resources in heterogeneous environments. In the first part of this thesis, I addressed this issue by studying how neighbouring resources can affect the likelihood of insects finding their preferred host resources. These effects of neighbouring resources are commonly referred to as associational effects, and are expected to result from limitations in the sensory physiology of insects. Such limitations constrain the insect’s ability to correctly evaluate resource quality at the different steps involved in insect search behaviour. Furthermore, I determined whether the physiological state of an insect, and sensory experiences made during larval stages, can affect host search behaviour in heterogeneous environments.

By comparing the behaviour of Drosophila melanogaster in environments with single and multiple resources, I found that the presence of neighbouring recourses increased the selection rates for attractive resources, while it decreased the selection rates for less preferred resources. These effects are referred to as associational susceptibility and associational resistance respectively. Furthermore, by studying oviposition behaviour, I found that, during these small-scale behavioural decisions, associational effects are mainly governed by gustatory mediated selection and less by olfactory mediated selection. The oviposition assay eliminated potential misinterpretations of resource quality along different search behaviour levels, hence the results suggested that associational effects rather rely on distinctive selection behaviour between resource types than on sensory constraints.

In the second part of this thesis I determined whether natal experiences can be used by insects as sensory shortcuts to find host resources, and whether this leads to better larval performance on those selected host resources. I studied the interactions between the larval parasitoid Asecodes lucens and the oligophagous leaf beetle Galerucella sagittariae. The results showed that the relationship between oviposition preference and larval performance of both insect species depends on an interactive effect between the insects’ natal origin and the quality of the different host resources. Moreover, I found that the natal origin was a better predictor for the adult host preference of both species, rather than for larval performance. This suggests that locating any suitable host might be more limiting for female fitness rather than the actual quality of the selected host resources.

Opponent: Distinguished Professor and A.M. Boyce Chair Ring T. Cardé