Mismatch between the timing of oviposition and the seasonal optimum. The stochastic phenology of Mediterranean acorn weevils


Raul Bonal, Raul Bonal Grupo de la Biodiversidad Genética y Cultural, Unidad Ecología Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ronda de Toledo, s/n Ciudad Real 13071, Spain. E-mail: raul.bonal@uclm.es


1. The timing of reproduction is predicted to match the period of maximum food availability. In this sense, the case of many phytophagous insects in temperate regions is very illustrative, as their larvae usually depend on a resource only available for a limited period of time each year.

2. For 3 years the interactions between the weevil Curculio elephas and the Mediterranean Holm oak Quercus ilex were studied. Weevil larvae grow within the acorns, feeding on the cotyledons. The timing of oviposition will determine food availability for the larvae, as acorns stop growing once they are attacked.

3. Acorn temporal growing patterns did not change between years and food availability for larvae was at its highest in October, when temperature was still suitable for larval development. However, oviposition phenology did change between years. In 2002 females oviposited later, larvae grew within larger acorns, and their body mass was significantly higher than in 2003 or 2004, when females oviposited into early acorns.

4. Thus, weevils do not always adjust oviposition to the best possible feeding conditions for their offspring. Rather, they seem to maximise their own lifetime fitness, ovipositing as soon as they emerge in late summer. Emergence, in turn, depends strongly on stochastic events such as summer storms in the Mediterranean region.

5. Under a climate change perspective, the trend towards higher August rainfall recorded in our study area may alter oviposition phenology, with the subsequent cascade effects on weevil body size and fitness