Reduced size and starvation resistance in adult mosquitoes, Aedes notoscriptus, exposed to predation cues as larvae


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1. Many prey organisms exhibit adaptive phenotypic plasticity in life-history traits that facilitate a better chance of survival in the presence of predators. The evolution of such plastic traits requires that the defensive phenotype incurs a cost in the absence of predation.

2. Model systems that are used to examine predator-induced defences are often organisms with complex life histories that only induce defences during the larval stage. While many studies have detected costs of inducible defences during the larval stage, detecting the costs of larval defences after metamorphosis is also important.

3. We examine the benefits and costs of inducible larval defences in the urban mosquito, Aedes notoscriptus, by rearing them in the presence and absence of predation cues. We compared survival of larvae inducing behavioural defences, when exposed to predation cues, in predation trials with predatory fish Hypseleotris galii to that of larvae reared in the absence predation cues. We also compared life-history traits of predator-exposed larvae to larvae reared in control conditions.

4. Larvae exposed to chemical predation cues limited activity and were able to avoid predation for longer in trials with H. galii. However, predator-exposed larvae suffered retarded larval growth and development, were smaller at metamorphosis and less resistant to starvation as adults.

5. While it is difficult to understand the ‘fitness costs’ that poorer starvation resistance might confer to adult mosquitoes, it is likely that smaller adult size of predator-exposed individuals would reduce fitness, particularly for females where body size limits the size of blood meal they could take to facilitate egg production. We suggest that the demonstrable costs of inducible defences in mosquito larvae make this a good system for testing theoretical models for the evolutionary maintenance of adaptive phenotypic plasticity.