Generalism in Nature ... The Great Misnomer: Aphids and Wasp Parasitoids as Examples

Hugh D. Loxdale (Corresponding author), Adalbert Balog, Jeffrey A. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
81 Downloads (Pure)


In the present article we discuss why, in our view, the term ‘generalism’ to define the dietary breadth of a species is a misnomer and should be revised by entomologists/ecologists with the more exact title relating to the animal in question’s level of phagy—mono-, oligo, or polyphagy. We discard generalism as a concept because of the indisputable fact that all living organisms fill a unique ecological niche, and that entry and exit from such niches are the acknowledged routes and mechanisms driving ecological divergence and ultimately speciation. The term specialist is probably still useful and we support its continuing usage simply because all species and lower levels of evolutionary diverge are indeed specialists to a large degree. Using aphids and parasitoid wasps as examples, we provide evidence from the literature that even some apparently highly polyphagous agricultural aphid pest species and their wasp parasitoids are probably not as polyphagous as formerly assumed. We suggest that the shifting of plant hosts by herbivorous insects like aphids, whilst having positive benefits in reducing competition, and reducing antagonists by moving the target organism into ‘enemy free space’, produces trade-offs in survival, involving relaxed selection in the case of the manicured agro-ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Article number314
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant_OA


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