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Effects of maternal age on larval competitiveness in house flies




At advanced ages, many insects lay smaller eggs with reduced viability, but adults produced by different maternal age classes are usually indistinguishable. In most species it is not known if there are any significant differences between hatchlings from smaller, later eggs (i.e. those produced by old females) and those from larger, earlier eggs (i.e. those produced by young females). For many insects, the best way to determine if such differences exist is to rear larvae from different maternal age classes together and compare their success. We tested the effects of maternal age on the competitive ability of house fly larvae, using a modified replacement (substitution) design with pairwise comparisons of two maternal age classes from three electrophoretically marked lines. For each comparison, known numbers of larvae were reared together at five ratios, including pure cultures, at densities high enough to ensure severe competition. We measured the effects of maternal age on hatchling to adult survival, development time, and adult size. In general, older females produced larvae that had higher viability and attained larger sizes, but developed more slowly. Maternal age effects were line-specific, suggesting that they are determined genetically, and there were significant interactions of maternal age effects between pairwise line comparisons. Maternal age effects on performance in pure culture were not predictive of performance in mixed cultures. Competitor identity significantly affected the success of each line and maternal age class, suggesting that use of tester strains to determine relative competitiveness of lines, or maternal age classes, is not generally valid. The results are discussed with respect to the possible adaptive nature of maternal age effects in this species.