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Abstract

Although empirical studies of life history effects upon sexually selected phenomena have largely overlooked contest behaviour, recent research suggests that territorial contest participation in butterflies may be mediated by ageing per se. Verbal and mathematical arguments predict lifetime increases in the expression of risky male reproductive behaviours, such as fighting, under a range of ecological conditions. Here we explored the relevance of ageing per se to contest dynamics in two phenologically distinct populations of the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria. We established 160 experimental like-population contests among naïve south Swedish and Madeiran dyads, 112 of which we varied the age difference between combatants by 3–4 d. Although this age asymmetry did not influence contest outcome in either population, we found weak positive covariance between the loser's age and contest duration amongst Madeiran males. This is consistent with a slight lifetime increase in aggression because the duration of these aerial persistence contests is a sensitive measure of the losing male's level of aggressive intent. However, the size of this effect (semi-partial correlation = 0.281) suggests age is not as strongly relevant to contest behaviour in P. aegeria as in other territorial butterflies. We discuss the ways in which ecological differences between butterfly species, particularly with respect to predation risk, may have influenced the evolution of lifetime aggressive strategies in this group.