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Larval nutrition affects life history traits in a capital breeding moth
Nadia Colasurdo, Yves Gélinas, Emma Despland


Fitness depends not only on resource uptake but also on the allocation of these resources to various life history functions. This study explores the life-history consequences of larval diet in terms not only of larval performance but also of adult body composition and reproductive traits in the forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner). Caterpillars were reared on their preferred tree host, trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), or on one of three artificial foods: high protein:low carbohydrate, equal protein-to-carbohydrate ratio or low protein:high carbohydrate. Survivorship, larval development rate and adult body size were lowest on the carbohydrate-biased diet and similar on the protein-biased and equal-ratio diets. Fecundity increased with body size but did not otherwise differ between diets. Moths reared on the carbohydrate-biased diet allocated a lower proportion of their mass to the ovaries and more to somatic growth whereas those on equal-ratio and protein-biased diets allocated more to reproductive tissue and less to somatic tissue. These differences in allocation to reproduction arose from differences in the size of eggs, an index of offspring quality. No differences were found in lipid and protein content of female ovaries, accessory glands or somatic tissue, or of the whole body of male moths. The findings show that physiological processes regulate the composition of the different components of the adult body. Diet effects occur as differences in overall body size and in relative allocation to these components. Although lepidopterans can, to a large extent, compensate post-ingestively for nutritionally deficient diets, investment in reproduction vs somatic growth depends on the nutrients available.


  • We would like to thank Paul Albert, Barbara Woodside, Daniel McLaughlin and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. E.D. was supported by funding from the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Fond Québécois pour la Recherche en Nature et Technologies and the Canadian Fund for Innovation. The authors declare that all the experiments comply with the current laws of Canada.

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