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Keywords:

  • breeding site selection;
  • complex life history;
  • habitat selection;
  • metapopulation;
  • tree hole mosquito

Summary

  • 1
    Researchers often use the spatial distribution of insect offspring as a measure of adult oviposition preferences, and then make conclusions about the consequences of these preferences for population growth and the relationship between life-history traits (e.g. oviposition preference and offspring performance). However, several processes other than oviposition preference can generate spatial patterns of offspring density (e.g. dispersal limitations, spatially heterogeneous mortality rates). Incorrectly assuming that offspring distributions reflect oviposition preferences may therefore compromise our ability to understand the mechanisms determining population distributions and the relationship between life-history traits.
  • 2
    The purpose of this study was to perform an empirical study at the whole-system scale to examine the movement and oviposition behaviours of the eastern tree hole mosquito Ochlerotatus triseriatus (Say) and test the importance of these behaviours in determining population distribution relative to other mechanisms.
  • 3
    A mark–release–recapture experiment was performed to distinguish among the following alternative hypotheses that may explain a previously observed aggregated distribution of tree hole mosquito offspring: (H1) mosquitoes prefer habitats with particular vegetation characteristics and these preferences determine the distribution of their offspring; (H2) mosquitoes distribute their eggs randomly or evenly throughout their environment, but spatial differences in developmental success generate an aggregated pattern of larval density; (H3) mosquitoes randomly colonize habitats, but have limited dispersal capability causing them to distribute offspring where founder populations were established; (H4) wind or other environmental factors may lead to passive aggregation, or spatial heterogeneity in adult mortality (H5), rather than dispersal, generates clumped offspring distributions.
  • 4
    Results indicate that the distribution of tree hole mosquito larvae is determined in part by adult habitat selection (H1), but do not exclude additional effects from passive aggregation (H4), or spatial patterns in adult mortality (H5).
  • 5
    This research illustrates the importance of studying oviposition behaviour at the population scale to better evaluate its relative importance in determining population distribution and dynamics. Moreover, this study demonstrates the importance of linking behavioural and population dynamics for understanding evolutionary relationships among life-history traits (e.g. preference and offspring performance) and predicting when behaviour will be important in determining population phenomena.