The principal components of floral nectar are water and the sugars sucrose, fructose and glucose. Several studies have shown the importance of nectar sugars for female butterfly fecundity, whereas to date little attention has been paid to the effect of nectar sugars on male butterfly reproduction. Clear evidence for an effect of nectar sugars on male realized reproductive success is still missing.
In this study, we fed male Coenonympha pamphilus butterflies nectar mimics with low (5%), medium (20%) or high (30%) total sugar concentrations with a sucrose:glucose:fructose ratio of 2.7:1.1:1. Sugar solutions were made mimicking Knautia arvensis, an essential nectar plant for C. pamphilus and many other European butterflies. Realized male reproductive success for each treatment was measured indirectly via nuptial gifts, by recording reproductive parameters and by characterizing time patterns over the oviposition period of their female partner.
Male butterflies fed high-concentrated nectar sugars had a longer lifespan than males fed low-concentrated nectar sugars. In contrast, offspring of males fed medium-concentrated nectar sugars had a higher hatching mass than progeny of males fed low-concentrated nectar sugars, indicating a tradeoff between somatic maintenance and reproduction in the use of nectar sugars. Thus, allocation patterns of nectar sugars differed according to sugar concentrations in adult food.
The method used in this experiment took into account the indispensable role of female butterflies in passing male nutrients to offspring. With this comprehensive approach, we can show the general importance of nectar sugars for male butterfly fitness and support previous findings suggesting a coevolutionary process between butterflies and flowers dependent on butterfly pollination.