Behaviour 2019
High-quality host plant diets partially rescue female fecundity from a poor early start
Lauren A. Cirino1,3, Patricia J. Moore2, Christine W. Miller3. 1University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, United States; 2University of Georgia, Athens, GA, United States; 3University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States

Nutrition is a dynamic environmental factor. Some animals may be equipped to handle changes to their diets due to the evolutionary history with these foods. Yet, we know little about how natural and dynamic diets affect female reproductive traits. We first examined how cactus host plant quality affects female reproductive success using a specialist insect herbivore, Narnia femorata. Then, we investigated the extent to which reproductive success can be improved by a switch in host plant quality at adulthood. We placed juveniles onto cactus pads with ripe (high quality) or unripe fruit (low quality). Females were either maintained on their juvenile diets or switched to high-quality diets at adulthood. Female survival and fecundity were tracked over time. Adult survival and egg production were lower under constant low-quality diets compared to females fed constant high-quality food. However, when females were fed high-quality diets at adulthood, fecundity, not survival, was partially rescued. Thus, if females can survive to adulthood when foraging capacity increases, they can partially compensate for a poor early start through improved nutrition.