, Volume 138, Issue 1, pp 39–47 | Cite as

Larval cannibalism, time constraints, and adult fitness in caddisflies that inhabit temporary wetlands

  • Scott WissingerEmail author
  • Jeff Steinmetz
  • J. Scott Alexander
  • Wendy Brown
Population Ecology


The fitness of non-feeding adult insects depends on energy accumulated during the larval stage. Larvae of the caddisfly Asynarchus nigriculus primarily feed on plant detritus, but supplement their diet with animal material obtained through cannibalism. Habitat drying constrains development in many populations of this species, and we hypothesized that cannibalism should accelerate development to facilitate timely metamorphosis. We manipulated larval diets in a field experiment by supplementing detritus with animal material, and in a laboratory experiment by varying animal material and detritus quality (conditioned vs unconditioned). We measured the effects of dietary manipulation on larval and pupal growth and development, the timing of metamorphosis, and adult fitness correlates. The results of the laboratory experiment suggest that this species can metamorphose with a detritus-only diet, but development is extremely protracted. In the field experiment, individuals with animal material in their diet had higher larval survival, shorter larval and pupal development times, and earlier emergence dates (7–10 days), than those without a supplement. This delay in emergence should have important effects on survival in natural populations where the difference between desiccation and successful emergence can be only a few days. Dietary supplementation also affected adult body mass (30–40% increase), female fecundity (30% more eggs), and proportional allocation to different adult body parts. Our results are consistent with recent growth-development models that predict coupled (earlier emergence and larger adults) rather than tradeoff responses (earlier emergence and smaller adults) to pre-threshold manipulation of larval diets. Many detritivorous aquatic insects supplement their diets with animal material, and our data provide evidence that this supplementation can have strong effects on fitness. This type of dietary supplementation should be especially important for taxa that do not feed as adults, and in temporary habitats that impose time constraints on larval development.


Detritivores Dietary supplement Life history Habitat drying 



We are grateful to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and The Nature Conservancy for access to the Mexican Cut Nature Reserve. Thanks to Suzanne Kilby for field assistance. An earlier version of the manuscript was improved greatly by discussions with Bobbi Peckarsky, Jason Jannot, Sara Mattie, and the Freshwater Ecology Research Group at the University of Canterbury (especially Angus McIntosh, Michael Winterbourn, Jon Harding, Nicholas Dunn, Leanne O‘Brien, Jane Goodman, and Hans Eikaas). This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (DEB 9407856).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott Wissinger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jeff Steinmetz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • J. Scott Alexander
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Wendy Brown
    • 2
  1. 1.Biology and Environmental Science DepartmentsAllegheny CollegeMeadvilleUSA
  2. 2.Rocky Mountain Biological LaboratoryCrested ButteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Animal BiologyUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  4. 4.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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