- 1Although theory predicts a positive relationship between oviposition preferences and the developmental performance of offspring, the strength of this relationship may depend not only on breeding site quality, but also on the complex interactions between environmental heterogeneity and density-dependent processes. Environmental heterogeneity may not only alter the strength of density dependence, but may also fundamentally alter density-dependent relationships and the preference–performance relationship.
- 2Here I present results from a series of field experiments testing the effects of environmental heterogeneity and density-dependent feedback on offspring performance in tree-hole mosquitoes. Specifically, I asked: (i) how do oviposition activity, patterns of colonization and larval density differ among habitats and among oviposition sites with different resources; and (ii) how is performance influenced by the density of conspecifics, the type of resource in the oviposition site, and the type of habitat in which the oviposition site is located?
- 3Performance did not differ among habitats at low offspring densities, but was higher in deciduous forest habitats than in evergreen forest habitats at high densities. Oviposition activity and larval densities were also higher in deciduous forests, suggesting a weak preference for these habitats.
- 4The observed divergence of fitness among habitats with increasing density may select for consistent but weak preferences for deciduous habitats if regional abundances vary temporally. This would generate a negative preference–performance relationship when population densities are low, but a positive relationship when population densities are high.
- 5This study demonstrates that failure to recognize that fitness differences among habitats may themselves be density-dependent may bias our assumptions about the ecological and evolutionary processes determining oviposition preferences in natural systems.