Nutrition shapes life-history evolution across species

Eli M. Swanson, Anne Espeset, Ihab Mikati, Isaac Bolduc, Robert Kulhanek, William A. White, Susan Kenzie, Emilie C. Snell-Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Nutrition is a key component of life-history theory, yet we know little about how diet quality shapes life-history evolution across species. Here, we test whether quantitative measures of nutrition are linked to life-history evolution across 96 species of butterflies representing over 50 independent diet shifts. We find that butterflies feeding on high nitrogen host plants as larvae are more fecund, but their eggs are smaller relative to their body size. Nitrogen and sodium content of host plants are also both positively related to eye size. Some of these relationships show pronounced lineage-specific effects. Testis size is not related to nutrition. Additionally, the evolutionary timing of diet shifts is not important, suggesting that nutrition affects life histories regardless of the length of time a species has been adapting to its diet. Our results suggest that, at least for some lineages, species with higher nutrient diets can invest in a range of fitness-related traits like fecundity and eye size while allocating less to each egg as offspring have access to a richer diet. These results have important implications for the evolution of life histories in the face of anthropogenic changes in nutrient availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20152764
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1834
StatePublished - Jul 13 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Fecundity
  • Life history
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrition


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