Trade-offs between fecundity and choosiness in ovipositing butterflies

Sarah Jaumann, Emilie Snell-Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Being choosy can allow animals to find and identify the best resources or safest locations to rear offspring. Despite these benefits, individuals vary in the degree to which they are choosy. One explanation is that choosiness represents a costly form of offspring investment and is part of a suite of life history trade-offs. We examined trade-offs between choosiness and fecundity in the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae. To test the prediction that choosiness is negatively correlated with fecundity, we presented female cabbage white butterflies with an array of host plant leaves that varied in nutrient content and conspecific density. Butterflies preferentially laid eggs on leaves with higher nutrient content and fewer conspecific models. In addition, butterflies that were choosier with regard to plant nutrition also tended to be choosy in terms of conspecific density. Choosy females were less fecund, with fecundity measured as the sum of eggs laid over 3 days plus all remaining mature eggs in their abdomen. These results are consistent with the idea that life history trade-offs include investment in costly behavioural traits that require time and energy, such as choosiness or cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-440
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Itachi Mills and Brian Gregg for assistance with butterfly husbandry, Eli Swanson for statistical advice, and the Snell-Rood lab, the University of Minnesota Behaviour Group, Marla Spivak, Dave Stephens and Marlene Zuk for helpful comments. We also thank the anonymous referees for comments that greatly improved the manuscript. This project was supported in part by the University of Minnesota EEB department and Bell Museum and the Animal Behavior Society. The Snell-Rood lab was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF IOS-1354737).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour


  • butterfly
  • choosiness
  • decision making
  • life history
  • social behaviour
  • trade-off


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