Specialist versus generalist insect herbivores and plant defense

Trends Plant Sci. 2012 May;17(5):293-302. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 15.


There has been a long-standing hypothesis that specialist and generalist insects interact with plants in distinct ways. Although many tests exist, they typically compare only one species of each, they sometimes confound specialization and feeding guild, and often do not link chemical or transcriptional measures of the plant to actual resistance. In this review, we synthesize current data on whether specialists and generalists actually differ, with special attention to comparisons of their differential elicitation of plant responses. Although we find few consistencies in plant induction by specialists versus generalists, feeding guilds are predictive of differential plant responses. We outline a novel set of predictions based on current coevolutionary hypotheses and make methodological suggestions for improved comparisons of specialists and generalists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Resistance / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Herbivory / classification
  • Herbivory / physiology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Insecta / classification
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / parasitology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Species Specificity