Evolution of larval competitiveness and associated life-history traits in response to host shifts in a seed beetle

C. W. Fox, F. J. Messina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Resource competition is frequently strong among parasites that feed within small discrete resource patches, such as seeds or fruits. The properties of a host can influence the behavioural, morphological and life-history traits of associated parasites, including traits that mediate competition within the host. For seed parasites, host size may be an especially important determinant of competitive ability. Using the seed beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus, we performed replicated, reciprocal host shifts to examine the role of seed size in determining larval competitiveness and associated traits. Populations ancestrally associated with either a small host (mung bean) or a large one (cowpea) were switched to each other's host for 36 generations. Compared to control lines (those remaining on the ancestral host), lines switched from the small host to the large host evolved greater tolerance of co-occurring larvae within seeds (indicated by an increase in the frequency of small seeds yielding two adults), smaller egg size and higher fecundity. Each change occurred in the direction predicted by the traits of populations already adapted to cowpea. However, we did not observe the expected decline in adult mass following the shift to the larger host. Moreover, lines switched from the large host (cowpea) to the small host (mung bean) did not evolve the predicted increase in larval competitiveness or egg size, but did exhibit the predicted increase in body mass. Our results thus provide mixed support for the hypothesis that host size determines the evolution of competition-related traits of seed beetles. Evolutionary responses to the two host shifts were consistent among replicate lines, but the evolution of larval competition was asymmetric, with larval competitiveness evolving as predicted in one direction of host shift, but not the reverse. Nevertheless, our results indicate that switching hosts is sufficient to produce repeatable and rapid changes in the competition strategy and fitness-related traits of insect populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-313
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Bill Wallin, Elliot Campbell, Fariba Kanga, Anna Muncy and Daniel Sullivan for help running experiments. Melise Lecheta, Allyssa Kilanowski and Josiah Ritchey provided comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This work was funded in part by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station (paper number 9019).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 European Society For Evolutionary Biology. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2017 European Society For Evolutionary Biology


  • Callosobruchus maculatus
  • body size
  • contest competition
  • experimental evolution
  • scramble competition
  • seed size

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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