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Evol Dev. 2003 Mar-Apr;5(2):188-97.

Critical weight in the development of insect body size.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Body size is one of the most important life history characters of organisms, yet little is known of the physiological mechanisms that regulate either body size or variation in body size. Here, we examined one of these mechanisms, the critical weight, which is defined as the minimal mass at which further growth is not necessary for a normal time course to pupation. The critical weight occurred at 55% of peak larval mass in laboratory-reared larvae of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. We examined the effects of genetic and environmental variation in the critical weight on body size. As in many other insects, Manduca larvae reared on poor diets were smaller and those reared at lower temperatures were larger than control animals. We demonstrated that the critical weight was lower on low quality diets but did not change with temperature. There was significant genetic variation for body size, for plasticity of body size, and for critical weight, but not for plasticity of critical weight. Variation in the critical weight accounted for 73% of between-family variance in peak larval size, whereas plasticity of critical weight was not significantly correlated with plasticity of body size. Our results suggest that although critical weight is an important factor in determining body size and enabling the evolution of body size, it may, at the same time, act as a constraint on the evolution of plasticity of body size. Thus, the determinants of body size and the determinants of plasticity of body size do not need to be identical.

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