1. Phytochemical coevolution theory, a long-standing paradigm in plant–insect interactions, predicts that specialist herbivores are less negatively affected by the allelochemicals of their host plants than are generalist herbivores. Although this theory is prevalent in plant–insect science, it is not always supported by empirical studies measuring the performance of specialist and generalist insects in response to allelochemicals. 2. The present study aimed to investigate: (i) whether there a difference between specialist and generalist performance in response to allelochemicals and (ii) whether the effect of allelochemicals on specialists and generalists depend upon allelochemical class or insect order. 3. A meta-analysis was conducted incorporating 76 effect sizes drawn from studies that directly compared the performance of specialist and generalist insects in response to treatment and control diets. Most of the effect sizes were related to the performance metric growth, the insect order Lepidoptera, and the allelochemical class nitrogen-containing compounds. 4. As predicted by phytochemical coevolution theory, specialist insects responded less negatively to allelochemicals of their hosts than generalist insects in terms of growth. There were no significant differences in terms of fecundity or survival, or among allelochemical classes or insect orders. 5. These results support the prediction of phytochemical coevolution theory that specialist insects respond less negatively to allelochemicals of their hosts than generalists, although only in terms of growth.
- diet breadth
- phytochemical coevolution theory
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science