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Heredity (Edinb). 1999 Mar;82 ( Pt 3):267-75.

Cannibalism facilitates the use of a novel environment in the flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum.

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Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park 20742, USA.


Cannibalism is well known to affect both the population dynamics and the competitive relationships of organisms. Cannibalistic behaviour commonly increases in stressful conditions, such as when density is high or food is scarce, and cannibals often obtain a nutritional benefit. Might cannibalism also increase in a novel environment to which a population is poorly adapted physiologically? Moreover, might cannibalistic behaviour provide enough of a nutritional advantage in a nutritionally stressful environment to rescue individuals from its adverse effects and thus permit colonization and range expansion? Previous work has shown that oat flour is a particularly stressful environment for Tribolium castaneum. In the study reported here, egg cannibalism by two strains of T. castaneum was significantly enhanced in oat flour, and egg eating rescued larvae from the adverse demographic effects of this poor environment. Development time of the cannibals was accelerated almost to the level seen for individuals reared in the nutritionally superior environment (wheat plus brewer's yeast). Their survival and fecundity also increased relative to individuals reared in oat flour without the opportunity to cannibalize. A sib analysis revealed that for larvae reared in the presence of victim eggs, the extent of cannibalism was genetically variable, so that this trait could evolve, given a selective benefit exceeding its cost. These results suggest that colonization of a marginal new environment could be facilitated by enhanced rates of cannibalism. The possible interplay between cannibalism and physiological adaptation to a new environment is discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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