Life-History Variation in a Seed Beetle: Adult Egg-Laying vs. Larval Competitive Ability

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Populations of the seed beetle Callosobruchus maculatus differ genetically in several traits that mediate intraspecific competition. This study examined competitive interactions between larvae from two strains that differed in their propensity to oviposit on occupied hosts. In a strain (S) where females avoided laying >1 egg/seed, larvae were highly competitive; if two larvae entered a small host simultaneously, only one adult emerged. In a strain (I) whose females were “sloppier” in their egg-laying decisions, more than half of the seeds bearing two larvae yielded two adults. If seeds contained one larva from each strain, only one adult emerged per seed, and 70% of these adults belonged to the more competitive S strain. A larva's probability of emergence could be increased if it entered the seed before its competitor. A two-day headstart was needed merely for I larvae to compete equally with S larvae. Competition also affected development time and adult weight, but its effect was highly strain- and sex-specific. Adult life-history traits also differed substantially between strains. Compared to I beetles, S beetles exhibited decreased longevity, lower fecundity, a truncated period of oviposition, and larger egg and body size. Fecundity was linearly related to body size in the I strain, but was largely independent of size in the S strain. When faced with a shortage of hosts, S females (whose progeny are highly competitive) “withheld” eggs and died without depositing 40% of their lifetime supply. In contrast, the fecundity of I females was independent of seed availability. Comparisons with previous studies suggest that both highly uniform egg-laying and strong interference among larvae may be a consequence of chronic association with a relatively small host. Results from the larval competition experiments were used as parameter estimates for a simple, game-theoretic model that postulates interference vs. exploitative strategies. Fitness comparisons suggest that a strategy employing interference competition cannot be invaded by a more exploitative form of competition in a small host.

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