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J Evol Biol. 2014 May;27(5):920-8. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12363. Epub 2014 Apr 15.

Egg and time limitation mediate an egg protection strategy.

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Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Entomology and Insect Science, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.


The number of mature eggs remaining in the ovaries and the time left for oviposition determine the reproductive decisions of the hyperdiverse guild of insects that require discrete and potentially limiting resources for oviposition (such as seeds, fruits or other insects). A female may run out of eggs before all available oviposition sites are used (egg limitation), or die before using all of her eggs (time limitation). Females are predicted to change clutch size depending on whether eggs or time is the limiting resource. We extend this framework and ask whether the same constraints influence a strategy in which females modify eggs into protective shields. In response to egg parasitism cues, female seed beetles (Mimosestes amicus) lay eggs in vertical groups of 2-4, modifying the top 1-3 eggs into shields in order to protect the bottom egg from attack by parasitoids. We made contrasting predictions of how egg and time limitation would influence egg size and the incidence and level of egg protection. By varying access to seed pods, we manipulated the number of remaining eggs a female had at the time she received a parasitism cue. Although egg size was not affected, our results confirm that egg-limited females protected fewer eggs and time-limited females protected more eggs. Female body size explained the number of eggs in a stack rather than host deprivation or the timing of parasitoid exposure. Our results clearly show that host availability relative to female age influences the incidence of egg protection in M. amicus. Furthermore, our study represents a novel use of life history theory to explain patterns in an unusual but compelling defensive behaviour.


Mimosestes amicus; egg limitation; egg protection; life history; oviposition behaviour; parasitoid; seed beetles; time limitation

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