Seasonally varying diet quality and the quantitative genetics of development time and body size in birch feeding insects

  • Kause A
  • Saloniemi I
  • Morin J
 et al. 
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Genetic variance-covariance structures (G), describing genetic constraints on microevolutionary changes of populations, have a central role in the current theories of life-history evolution. However, the evolution of Gs in natural environments has been poorly documented. Resource quality and quantity for many animals and plants vary seasonally, which may shape genetic architectures of their life histories. In the mountain birch-insect herbivore community, leaf quality of birch for insect herbivores declines profoundly during both leaf growth and senescence, but remains stable during midsummer. Using six sawfly species specialized on the mountain birch foliage, we tested the ways in which the seasonal variation in foliage quality of birch is related to the genetic architectures of larval development time and body size. In the species consuming mature birch leaves of stable quality, that is, without diet-imposed time constraints for development time, long development led to high body mass. This was revealed by the strongly positive phenotypic and genetic correlations between the traits. In the species consuming growing or senescing leaves, on the other hand, the rapidly deteriorating leaf quality prevented the larvae from gaining high body mass after long development. In these species, the phenotypic and genetic correlations between development time and final mass were negative or zero. In the early-summer species with strong selection for rapid development, genetic variation in development time was low. These results show that the intuitively obvious positive genetic relationship between development time and final body mass is a probable outcome only when the constraints for long development are relaxed. Our study provides the first example of a modification in guild-wide patterns in the genetic architectures brought about by seasonal variation in resource quality.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Genetic correlations
  • Genetic variation
  • Heritability
  • Life-history traits
  • Plant-insect interaction
  • Quantitative genetics
  • Seasonality

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  • Antti Kause

  • Irma Saloniemi

  • Jean Philippe Morin

  • Erkki Haukioja

  • Sinikka Hanhimäki

  • Kai Ruohomäki

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