What limits insect fecundity? Body size- and temperature-dependent egg maturation and oviposition in a butterfly


*Correspondence author. E-mail: david.berger@zoologi.su.se


  • 1Large female insects usually have high potential fecundity. Therefore selection should favour an increase in body size given that these females get opportunities to realize their potential advantage by maturing and laying more eggs. However, ectotherm physiology is strongly temperature-dependent, and activities are carried out sufficiently only within certain temperature ranges. Thus it remains unclear if the fecundity advantage of a large size is fully realized in natural environments, where thermal conditions are limiting.
  • 2Insect fecundity might be limited by temperature at two levels; first eggs need to mature, and then the female needs time for strategic ovipositing of the egg. Since a female cannot foresee the number of oviposition opportunities that she will encounter on a given day, the optimal rate of egg maturation will be governed by trade-offs associated with egg- and time-limited oviposition. As females of different sizes will have different amounts of body reserves, size-dependent allocation trade-offs between the mother's condition and her egg production might be expected.
  • 3In the temperate butterfly Pararge aegeria, the time and temperature dependence of oviposition and egg maturation, and the interrelatedness of these two processes were investigated in a series of laboratory experiments, allowing a decoupling of the time budgets for the respective processes.
  • 4The results show that realized fecundity of this species can be limited by both the temperature dependence of egg maturation and oviposition under certain thermal regimes. Furthermore, rates of oviposition and egg maturation seemed to have regulatory effects upon each other. Early reproductive output was correlated with short life span, indicating a cost of reproduction. Finally, large females matured more eggs than small females when deprived of oviposition opportunities. Thus, the optimal allocation of resources to egg production seems dependent on female size.
  • 5This study highlights the complexity of processes underlying rates of egg maturation and oviposition in ectotherms under natural conditions. We further discuss the importance of temperature variation for egg- vs. time-limited fecundity and the consequences for the evolution of female body size in insects.