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Am Nat. 2005 Apr;165(4):411-9. Epub 2005 Feb 11.

Amino acids in nectar enhance butterfly fecundity: a long-awaited link.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Basel, St. Johanns Vorstadt 10, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Thirty years ago, researchers discovered that flowers pollinated by butterflies are consistently rich in nectar amino acids, and more recent findings have shown that butterflies prefer nectar with high amino acid content. These observations led to speculation that amino acids in nectar enhance butterfly fitness and that butterflies have acted as agents of natural selection on nectar composition. Despite a number of experimental efforts over the years, convincing proof that nectar amino acids affect butterfly fitness has been lacking. Here, we provide the first evidence that amino acids in nectar have a positive effect on fecundity of one butterfly species, supporting the existence of a relationship between nectar preferences and fitness benefits. Map butterflies (Araschnia levana L.) raised under natural larval food conditions laid more eggs when they were fed nectar containing amino acids, whereas nectar amino acids had no effect on the number of eggs laid by butterflies raised on larval food rich in nitrogen. Uptake and utilization of nectar amino acids by map butterflies appear to be compensatory mechanisms enabling them to override impacts of poor larval food. These results provide strong support for the long-standing postulate that nectar amino acids benefit butterflies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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