Shifting body weight-fecundity relationship in a capital breeder: maternal effects on egg numbers of the autumnal moth under field conditions.
Increasing fecundity with increasing density has been observed for many cyclic herbivore populations, including some forest Lepidoptera. We monitored population density, body size and reproductive capacity of the cyclic lepidopteran, the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata, Geometridae), from the early increase phase to the devastating outbreak density in northernmost Norway. Larval density of the species increased exponentially from 1998 to 2002 and remained at the outbreak level also in 2003. Within the same period, the body size and fecundity of individuals reduced as analysed from several parallel datasets on larvae, pupae and adults. In another study area in northernmost Finland, the density increase of the autumnal moth was moderate only, and true outbreak density was not attained during the study. Despite that, a reduction was again detected in the size and fecundity of individuals. Possible factors responsible for the reduced size and fecundity of individuals in the Norwegian population were quantitative shortage of foliage, rapid and delayed inducible resistances of the host, mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii), as well as crowding-induced responses of larvae. These factors likely acted in concert, although non-delayed responses to the density were emphasized. Our findings did not support the hypotheses of climatic release, inducible susceptibility of the host tree and mast depression (i.e. lowered chemical defence of the host tree after its mast seeding) as promoters of the fecundity-based density increase of the autumnal moth, since the reduced fecundity in relation to increased density was strongly against the predictions of these hypotheses. Therefore, we suggest that the density increase of autumnal moth populations is promoted by high survival rather than exceptionally high fecundity.