• Body size;
  • caves;
  • mating behaviour;
  • sex ratio;
  • sexual size dimorphism;
  • temporary streams;
  • Trichoptera

1. The effect of mating success, female fecundity and survival probability associated with intra-sex variation in body size was studied in Mesophylax aspersus, a caddisfly species with female-biased sexual size dimorphism, which inhabits temporary streams and aestivates in caves. Adults of this species do not feed and females have to mature eggs during aestivation.

2. Thus, females of larger size should have a fitness advantage because they can harbour more energy reserves that could influence fecundity and probability of survival until reproduction. In contrast, males of smaller size might have competitive advantages over others in mating success.

3. These hypotheses were tested by comparing the sex ratio and body size of individuals captured before and after the aestivation period. The associations between body size and female fecundity, and between mating success and body size of males, were explored under laboratory conditions.

4. During the aestivation period, the sex ratio changed from 1 : 1 to male biased (4 : 1), and a directional selection on body size was detected for females but not for males. Moreover, larger clutches were laid by females of larger size. Finally, differences in mating success between small and large males were not detected. These results suggest that natural selection (i.e. the differential mortality of females associated with body size) together with possible fecundity advantages, are important factors responsible of the sexual size dimorphism of M. aspersus.

5. These results highlight the importance of taking into account mechanisms other than those traditionally used to explain sexual dimorphism. Natural selection acting on sources of variation, such as survival, may be as important as fecundity and sexual selection in driving the evolution of sexual size dimorphism.