Trophic generalism in the winter moth: a model system for phenological mismatch

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. This is version 1 of this Preprint.

Add a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.


There are no comments or no comments have been made public for this article.


Download Preprint


Jamie C Weir 


Climate change has the potential to disrupt phenological synchrony among interacting species that vary in their phenological sensitivity to temperature. The phenological synchrony observed between winter moth Operophtera brumata caterpillars and oak leafing in spring has become an emblematic test case of this phenomenon, with caterpillars seemingly advancing their phenology more than their host-plant. However, work on this trophic interaction—and on phenological mismatch more widely—routinely overlooks the potential for trophic generalism to buffer the negative effects of mismatch. In the largest study of its kind—using over 3500 individuals reared from egg to pupa—I tested the performance of winter moth caterpillars from four UK populations across nine host-plant species, and considered how adaptation to locally abundant host-plants may modulate performance in different populations. I found that caterpillars survive and grow well across a range of host-plant species, with some evidence of a host-plant by population interaction in performance. Contrary to widespread assumptions, oak seems a relatively poor host-plant species. Occupying a broad trophic niche may help consumers like the winter moth exploit a narrow phenological niche, whereby phenological variation among host-plant species buffers them against asynchrony with any one particular host-plant species. Determining the significance of trophic generalism in the ecology of consumers is a crucial first step towards assessing its role as a potential buffering mechanism and, hence, evaluating the true threat posed by mismatch.



Life Sciences


phenological asynchrony, ecological resilience, caterpillar, bud-burst, climate change, polyphagy, generalist diet, buffering, generalist


Published: 2024-06-11 10:04


No Creative Commons license

Additional Metadata


Conflict of interest statement:
I declare no conflicts of interest.

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Open data/code are not available.