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Keywords:

  • Phenotypic plasticity;
  • energy partitioning;
  • aphids

Abstract

Most models of optimum energy partitioning predict variability in adult size, although not always explicitly. Increase in size is usually attributed to an increase in the growth rate or decline in mortality. The model presented shows that this may not always be the case. Even when mortality is kept constant in organisms with overlapping generations, a constraint on the maximum reproductive growth rate may lead, when the rate of overall growth increases, to either an increase or a decline in the optimum adult body size.

It is shown that adult size could be a consequence of the differential responses of life history traits to changes in temperature and food quality. This is clearly advantageous for short lived organisms, like aphids, each generation of which only experience a very small part of the great seasonal range in conditions. This hypothesis complements Iwasa's (1991) explanation of the phenotypic plasticity observed in long lived organisms.

The predictions are illustrated with empirical data from aphids. The model presented, which has been verified against a very large data set, indicates that for aphids the adult weight observed at a particular combination of temperature and food quality is that at which the population growth rate, rm, is maximized.

We conclude that predictions about adult size from models based on the partitioning of energy are more likely to apply to organisms that scramble for resources, i.e., “r” selected species. The size of organisms that contest for resources is more likely to be determined by competitive status and avoidance of natural enemies.