Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 307–323 | Cite as

A trade-off between female lifespan and larval diet breadth at the interspecific level in Lepidoptera

  • Mark A. Jervis
  • Peter N. Ferns
  • Carol L. Boggs
Original Paper


A prediction arising from several evolutionary diet breadth models is that, in insect herbivores whose adults practise adaptive host plant selection based on larval performance, female adult lifespan should be negatively correlated with larval diet breadth. In one category of models, female adult lifespan drives evolutionary changes in larval diet breadth; in the other category, larval diet breadth drives evolutionary changes in female adult lifespan. Applying the method of independent contrasts to a biologically and phylogenetically diverse array of Lepidoptera, we ask whether larval diet breadth—as measured by the number of larval food plant species reported in the literature—is negatively correlated with female adult lifespan at the interspecific level. We show that these two life history variables are indeed inversely related. Next, we relax the assumption, common to all of the models, that the female adult is the life stage responsible for the distribution of progeny among different host plants. By introducing into our data set three species whose females are incapable of flight (due to either aptery or brachyptery), and whose larvae are the dispersive stage, the negative correlation between female adult lifespan and larval diet breadth is lost, when using the independent contrasts method. We interpret this effect as supporting the models’ common prediction. Ours is the first reported evidence of a lifespan/diet breadth trade-off at the interspecific level among insects, and it confirms the findings of a previous study in which the degree of habitat specialisation among arthropods was inversely related to proxy measures of the degree of search time constraint. In one of our “diet breadth drives changes in lifespan” models, the females’ type of egg maturation strategy (as measured by the ovigeny index) is predicted to be positively correlated with larval diet breadth, and it mediates a female adult lifespan/larval diet breadth trade-off; however, we found no convincing support for such a role.


Herbivory Foraging Host plant selection Time-limitation Egg-limitation Host range evolution Life history Lifespan Reproductive strategy Insects Lepidoptera 



We thank: Gaden Robinson for advising us, on several occasions, on the “HOSTS” database and moth phylogenies; George Tordoff and Neil Kidd for very useful discussions; Fernley Symons for commenting on an early draft; George Heimpel for commenting on a late draft; Illik Saccheri for providing us with body mass data for Biston betularia; David Lees for advice on aspects of the biology of B. betularia and other moth species; both Peter Mayhew and an another, anonymous, reviewer for extremely valuable comments on the submitted manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark A. Jervis
    • 1
  • Peter N. Ferns
    • 1
  • Carol L. Boggs
    • 2
  1. 1.Cardiff School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiff, WalesUK
  2. 2.Department of Biological Sciences, Center for Conservation BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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