Early-life effects on body size in each sex interact to determine reproductive success in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides

  • Eleanor Bladon (Creator)
  • Sinead English (Contributor)
  • Sonia Pascoal (Creator)
  • Rebecca Kilner (Creator)



Early-life conditions have been shown to have a profound effect on an animal’s body size and fecundity across diverse taxa. However, less is known about how early-life effects on fecundity within each sex interact to determine reproductive success. We used experiments with burying beetles Nicrophorus vespilloides to analyse this problem. The nutritional conditions experienced by burying beetles in early life are a key determinant of adult body size in both sexes, and adult body size in turn influences male reproductive tactics. In previous work, we showed that smaller males are more effective than larger males at stimulating virgin female fecundity. In this study, we manipulated male and female body size by restricting access to food in early development. We then conducted breeding assays, in which small and large females were mated sequentially with small and large males, and then allowed to raise offspring without paternal care. We tested whether large females, which are potentially more fecund, laid even more eggs when mated with small males. We found no evidence to support this prediction. Instead we detected only a weak non-significant trend in the predicted direction and no equivalent trend in the number of larvae produced. However, we did find that larvae attained a greater mass by the end of development when their mother was large and mated with a small male first. We suggest that large females might have evolved counter-measures that prevent exploitation by small fecundity-stimulating males, including partial filial cannibalism. By eating surplus larvae during reproduction, larger females would leave more of the carrion for their offspring to consume. This could explain why their surviving larvae are able to attain a greater mass by the time they complete their development.
Date made available22 Sep 2020

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