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Am Nat. 2007 Jun;169(6):768-79. Epub 2007 Mar 21.

What keeps insects small? Time limitation during oviposition reduces the fecundity benefit of female size in a butterfly.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


Laboratory studies of insects suggest that female fecundity may increase very rapidly with adult size and that mass may often increase close to exponentially with time during larval growth. These relationships make it difficult to see how realistic levels of larval mortality can outweigh the fecundity benefit of prolonged growth. Hence, it is unclear why many insects do not become bigger. In this study, we experimentally explore the relationship between female size and fecundity in the butterfly Pararge aegeria and show that thermally induced time limitation during oviposition may substantially reduce the fecundity benefit of larger females. We model time-limited oviposition under natural temperature conditions and show that fecundity is also likely to increase asymptotically with female size in the field. With realistic estimates of juvenile mortality, the model predicts optimal body sizes within the observed range even when larvae grow exponentially. We conclude that one important reason for why insects with a high capacity of larval growth do not evolve toward larger sizes may be that the fecundity benefit is in fact relatively limited under natural conditions. If so, these results may help resolve some of the inconsistencies between theory and empirical patterns in explaining optimal size in insects.

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