High conspecific densities are associated with increased levels of intraspecific competition and a variety of negative effects on performance. However, changes in life history strategy could compensate for some of these effects. For instance, females in crowded conditions often have fewer total offspring, but they may invest more in each one. Such investment could include the production of larger offspring, more time spent engaging in parental care, or more choosy decisions about where offspring are placed. For animals that have a relatively immobile juvenile stage, the costs of competition can be particularly high. Females may be able to avoid such costs by investing more in individual reproductive decisions, rearing young or laying eggs in locations away from other females. We tested the hypothesis that conspecific density cues during juvenile and adult life stages lead to changes in life history strategy, including both reproduction and oviposition choices. We predicted that high-density cues during the larval and adult stages of female Pieris rapae butterflies lead to lower fecundity but higher conspecific avoidance during oviposition, compared to similar low-density cues. We used a 22 factorial design to examine the effects of low and high conspecific density during the larval and adult stages of butterflies on avoidance behavior and fecundity. We found that past information about conspecific density did not matter; all butterflies exhibited similar levels of fecundity and a low level of conspecific avoidance during oviposition regardless of their previous experience as larvae and adults. These results suggest that P. rapae females use a fixed, rather than flexible, conspecific avoidance strategy when making oviposition decisions, and past information about conspecific density has no effect on life history and current reproductive investment. We speculate that this may be partially because past conspecific density per se is not a reliable cue for predicting current density and levels of competition, and thus it does not affect the development of life history strategies in this system.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported in part by the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior department at the University of Minnesota. The Snell-Rood laboratory was supported in part by National Science Foundation [grant number IOS-1354737]. This work was submitted in association with a Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology symposium supported by National Science Foundation [grant number IOS-1637160] and Company of Biologists [grant number EA1233 to S.L. and J.H.], and by Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology divisions DAB, DCB, DEC, DEDE, DEE, DNB, and DVM.