Developmental plasticity in metabolism but not in energy reserve accumulation in a seasonally polyphenic butterfly [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Sami M. Kivelä, Karl Gotthard, and Philipp Lehmann

The evolution of seasonal polyphenisms (discrete phenotypes in different annual generations) associated with alternative developmental pathways of diapause (overwintering) and direct development is favoured in temperate insects. Seasonal life history polyphenisms are common and include faster growth and development under direct development than diapause. However, the physiological underpinnings of this difference remain poorly known despite its significance for understanding the evolution of polyphenisms. We measured respiration and metabolic rates through the penultimate and final larval instars in the butterfly Pieris napi and show that directly developing larvae grew and developed faster and had a higher metabolic rate than larvae entering pupal diapause. The metabolic divergence appeared only in the final instar, that is, after the induction of developmental pathway that takes place in the penultimate instar in P. napi. The accumulation of fat reserves during the final larval instar was similar under diapause and direct development, which was unexpected as diapause is predicted to select for exaggerated reserve accumulation. This suggests that overwinter survival in diapause does not require larger energy reserves than direct development, likely because of metabolic suppression in diapause pupae. The results, nevertheless, demonstrate that physiological changes coincide with the divergence of life histories between the alternative developmental pathways, thus elucidating the proximate basis of seasonal life history polyphenisms.

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