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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 August 22; 268(1477): 1661–1667.
PMCID: PMC1088792

Sexual conflict and cooperation in butterfly reproduction: a comparative study of polyandry and female fitness.


Most butterfly species can be characterized as capital breeders, meaning that reproductive output is strongly coupled to the amount of resources they have procured during the larval stage. Accordingly, female fecundity is generally correlated with female mass, both within and across species. However, the females of some species can be partly characterized as income breeders, in the sense that their reproductive output is dependent not only on larval-derived capital but also on resources acquired during the adult stage. These adult resources can be derived from female feeding or from male-transferred nuptial gifts. Recent studies on the within-species effects of multiple matings on female fitness show that females generally gain directly from multiple matings in terms of increased lifetime offspring production. Here, we test whether the positive effects of multiple mating on female fitness also hold at a comparative level, by conducting a laboratory study of female reproductive output in eight pierid species that differ in life-time female mating frequency. Female reproductive output, measured as cumulative egg mass divided by female mass, increased significantly with polyandry (r = 0.942, p < 0.001), demonstrating that the positive effect of mating rate on female reproductive fitness also holds between species. The positive effect of male nutrient contribution is substantial, and the per capita reproductive output is more than twice as high in the most polyandrous species as in the most monandrous ones. Hence, the positive net effect of the ejaculates is highly substantial, although males and females can have sexual interests that run counter to each other, setting the stage for sexually antagonistic coevolution, so that the various component parts of the male ejaculate-sperm, nutrients, anti-aphrodisiacs, and gonadotrophic hormones-may each correspond to a separate conflict-cooperation balance between the sexes. Two scenarios for the evolution of nuptial gifts in butterflies are discussed, one arguing that variation in larval food is the underlying factor and the other arguing that sexually antagonistic coevolution is the driving force. The two views are complementary rather than mutually exclusive, although the former hypothesis predicts that variation in female mating rate depends on variation in larval food availability, whereas the latter suggests that variation in female mating rate between species results from species-specific idiosyncrasies.

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