Heliothine moths (Lepidoptera: Heliothinae) include some of the world's most devastating pest species. Whereas the majority of nonpest heliothinae specialize on a single plant family, genus, or species, pest species are highly polyphagous, with populations often escalating in size as they move from one crop species to another. Here, we examine the current literature on heliothine host-selection behavior with the aim of providing a knowledge base for research scientists and pest managers. We review the host relations of pest heliothines, with a particular focus on Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner), the most economically damaging of all heliothine species. We then consider the important question of what constitutes a host plant in these moths, and some of the problems that arise when trying to determine host plant status from empirical studies on host use. The top six host plant families in the two main Australian pest species (H. armigera and Helicoverpa punctigera Wallengren) are the same and the top three (Asteraceae, Fabaceae, and Malvaceae) are ranked the same (in terms of the number of host species on which eggs or larvae have been identified), suggesting that these species may use similar cues to identify their hosts. In contrast, for the two key pest heliothines in the Americas, the Fabaceae contains ≈1/3 of hosts for both. For Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), the remaining hosts are more evenly distributed, with Solanaceae next, followed by Poaceae, Asteraceae, Malvaceae, and Rosaceae. For Heliothis virescens (F.), the next highest five families are Malvaceae, Asteraceae, Solanaceae, Convolvulaceae, and Scrophulariaceae. Again there is considerable overlap in host use at generic and even species level. H. armigera is the most widely distributed and recorded from 68 plant families worldwide, but only 14 families are recorded as a containing a host in all geographic areas. A few crop hosts are used throughout the range as expected, but in some cases there are anomalies, perhaps because host plant relation studies are not comparable. Studies on the attraction of heliothines to plant odors are examined in the context of our current understanding of insect olfaction, with the aim of better understanding the connection between odor perception and host choice. Finally, we discuss research into sustainable management of pest heliothines using knowledge of heliothine behavior and ecology. A coordinated international research effort is needed to advance our knowledge on host relations in widely distributed polyphagous species instead of the localized, piecemeal approaches to understanding these insects that has been the norm to date.
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Vol. 107 • No. 3