The timing of life-history events in insects can have important consequences for both survival and reproduction. For insect herbivores with complex life histories, selection is predicted to favor those combinations of traits that increase the size at metamorphosis while minimizing the risk of mortality from natural enemies. Studies quantifying selection on life-history traits in natural insect herbivore populations, however, have been rare. The purpose of this study was to measure phenotypic selection imposed by elements of the first and third trophic levels on variation in two life-history traits, the timing of egg hatch and pupal mass, in a population of oak-feeding caterpillars, Psilocorsis quercicella (Lepidoptera: Oecophoridae). Larvae were collected from the field throughout each of two generations per year for three years and reared to determine the effects of the date of egg hatch on both the risk of attack from parasitoids and the pupal mass of the survivors. The direction and strength of phenotypic selection attributed to aspects of the first and third trophic levels, as well as their combined effects, on the date of egg hatch was measured for each of the six generations. Heritabilities of and genetic correlations between pupal mass and the date of adult emergence from diapause (the life-history trait expected to have the largest influence on the timing of egg hatch, and thus larval development) were estimated from laboratory matings. In four of the six generations examined, significant directional selection attributed to the first trophic level was detected, always favoring early-hatching cohorts predicted to experience higher leaf quality than late-hatching cohorts. Directional phenotypic selection by the third trophic level was detected in only one of three years, and in that year the direction of selection was in opposite directions during the two successive generations. The combined effect of selection by both trophic levels indicated that the third trophic level acted to either reduce or enhance the more predictable pattern of selection attributed to the first trophic level. In addition, I found evidence of truncation selection acting to increase the mean and decrease the variance of pupal mass during the pupa-adult transition in the laboratory. Pupal mass and diapause duration were found to vary significantly among full-sibling families; upper bounds for heritability estimates were 0.57 and 0.30, respectively. Furthermore, these two traits were found to be positively genetically correlated (families with larger pupae had longer diapause durations), resulting in a fitness trade-off, because larger pupae enjoy higher survival through metamorphosis and female fecundity but emerge later, when average leaf quality for offspring is generally poorer.
Corresponding Editor: J. Conner