Large-scale cultivation of plants used as biofuels is likely to alter the ecological interactions of current agricultural crops and their insect pests in a myriad of ways. Recent evidence suggests many contemporary maize pests will be able to use potential biofuel crops such as switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L., and miscanthus as hosts. To determine how suitable these biofuels are to the maize, Zea mays L., pest and generalist graminivore, Spodoptera frugiperda (J.E. Smith) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), we examined host plant preference and larval performance on foliage grown for commercial biofuel production. Larvae fed leaf tissue from both field- and greenhouse-grown switchgrass and miscanthus were monitored for survival, development, and food use relative to field-grown maize. Survivorship on biofuel crops was high on greenhouse-grown leaf tissue but severely reduced for field-grown switchgrass, and no larvae survived on field-grown miscanthus. Larvae fed field-grown tissue had larger head capsules yet achieved lower pupal weights because the increased toughness of the leaf tissue prevented the assimilation of nitrogen. Given that larvae overwhelmingly preferred maize to other biofuel crop species and that survival and performance were dramatically reduced on biofuel crop species, it is likely that biofuel crops, as grown for field cultivation, will suffer reduced damage from maize pests such as S. frugiperda because of reduced suitability.
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Vol. 104 • No. 2