Evolutionary Ecology

, 20:575 | Cite as

What keeps insects small?—Size dependent predation on two species of butterfly larvae

  • David Berger
  • Richard Walters
  • Karl Gotthard
Original Paper


Insect size usually increases greatly in the latter stages of development, while reproductive value increases strongly with adult size. Mechanisms that can balance the benefits associated with increased growth are poorly understood, raising the question: what keeps insects from becoming larger? If predation risk was to increase with juvenile size, it would make an extension of development very risky, favouring smaller final sizes. But field measures of juvenile mortality seldom show any general patterns of size dependence. We here therefore try to estimate a mechanistic relationship between juvenile size and predation risk by exposing the larvae of two closely related butterflies to a generalist invertebrate predator in a laboratory experiment. Predation risk increased with larval size but was not affected by the species-specific growth rate differences. These results indicate that predation risk may increase with the size of the juvenile even when predators are relatively small. By basing a model simulation on our data we also show that size dependent predation of the kind found in this study has potential to stabilise selection on body size in these species. Thus, these findings suggest that more detailed studies of the size dependence of predation risk on juvenile instars will increase the understanding of what it is that keeps insects small.


Life history Body size Growth rate Juvenile mortality Age- and size at maturity Predation risk Lepidoptera Model 



We would like to thank Christer Wiklund and Darrell Kemp for their labours in collecting adult butterflies. We are also grateful to S. Nylin, W. Blanckenhorn and other, anonymous reviewers for sharing their useful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was financed by a grant from the Swedish Research Council to K. G.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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