Recent studies have shown that intraspecific patterns of phenotypic plasticity can mirror patterns of evolutionary diversification among species. This appears to be the case in Nicrophorus beetles. Within species, body size is positively correlated with the size of carrion used to provision larvae and parental performance. Likewise, among species, variation in body size influences whether species exploit smaller or larger carrion and the extent to which larvae depend on parental care. However, it is unclear whether developmental plasticity in response to carcass size, parental care, or both underlie transitions to new carcass niches. We examined this by testing whether variation in the conditions experienced by Nicrophorus vespilloides larvae influenced their ability to breed efficiently upon differently sized carcasses as adults. We found that the conditions experienced by larvae during development played a critical role in determining their ability to use large carcasses effectively as adults. Specifically, individuals that developed with parental care and on large carcasses were best able to convert the resources on a large carcass into offspring when breeding themselves. Our results suggest that parentally induced plasticity can be important in the initial stages of niche expansion.
|Status||Published - 2022|