Niche variation and the maintenance of variation in body size in a burying beetle
Hopwood, Paul Edward
Moore, Allen J.
John Wiley & Sons
1. In burying beetles (Nicrophorinae) body size is known to provide both a fecundity advantage (in females) and successful resource defence (in males and females). Despite this, considerable variation in body sizes is observed in natural populations. 2. A possible explanation for the maintenance of this variation, even with intra- and interspecific resource competition, is that individuals might assort according to body size on different sized breeding-resources. 3. We tested the prediction that ‘bigger is always better’ in the wild, and in the laboratory, by experimentally manipulating combinations of available breeding-resource size (mouse carcasses) and competitor’s body size in Nicrophorus vespilloides (Herbst 1783). 4. In the field, large female beetles deserted small carcasses, without breeding, more often than they did larger carcasses, but small females used carcasses indiscriminately with respect to size. In the laboratory large beetles reared larger broods (with more offspring) on larger carcasses than small beetles, but on small carcasses small beetles had a reproductive advantage over large ones. Offspring size covaried with carcass size independently of parental body size. 5. Our combined results suggest breeding resource value depends on an individual’s body size, and variation in body size is environmentally induced: maintained by differences in available carcass sizes. This produces a mechanism by which individual specialisation leads to an increase in niche variation via body size in these beetles.
This work was supported by a PhD studentship from the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/1528326/1) and a grant from NERC to N.J.R. and A.J.M. (NE/1025468/1).
© 2015 The Authors. Ecological Entomology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Entomological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Online Version of Record published before inclusion in an issue.
The final published version is available via DOI: 10.1111/een.12275
Ecological Entomology (2015), DOI: 10.1111/een.12275