Mating system evolution in response to search costs in the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria
A general and intuitive prediction from models of mate preference is that when the cost of searching for mates increases, individuals should become less choosy. Here, we test this prediction by comparing the mating propensity of females in two populations of the butterfly Pararge aegeria. The populations originated from southern Sweden and Madeira and due to different adult emergence patterns throughout the year, the average density of males per female is likely to be lower on Madeira. Therefore, we expected that the cost of searching should be greater on Madeira and, consequently, that the Madeiran females should be less choosy. In line with predictions, the Madeiran females mated significantly sooner after the first interaction with males than did females from southern Sweden. This difference may reflect a weaker preference for territorial males over non-territorial patrollers in the Madeiran population, because of the greater costs of searching. The Madeiran females also showed a shorter time lag between mating and the start of oviposition. We discuss this unexpected result and propose that the same mechanism could also explain this population difference, i.e. different costs of searching for suitable host plants. Both search processes are fundamental for female reproductive success and we find it plausible that they can be generalised into the same theory of optimal search behaviour.