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Research article2010Peer reviewed

Effects of colony size on larval performance in a processionary moth

Ronnås, Cecilia; Larsson, Stig; Pitacco, Andrea; Battisti, Andrea


1. Some lepidopteran species have larvae that live gregariously, especially in early instars. Colony-living species may benefit from improved protection from predators, thermoregulation, and feeding facilitation, for example.2. While many studies have compared solitary and gregarious life styles, few data exist as to the relationship between size of the larval colony and larval performance in gregarious species. The present study was aimed at understanding the importance of colony size for growth and survival of the northern pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pinivora) larvae.3. Field studies, comparing three different sizes of colonies of T. pinivora larvae, showed that individuals in larger colonies had a higher survival rate compared with those living in smaller colonies and also a faster growth rate.4. The higher survival rate of large colonies was attributed to improved protection from predacious arthropods.5. In early spring, the young larvae bask in the sun to increase their body temperature. In field experiments the thermal gain was higher in large colonies, and individuals in such colonies also grew faster. As growth rate was not affected by colony size when the ability to bask was experimentally removed in a laboratory experiment, the higher growth rate of the larger colonies was probably due to improved thermoregulation rather than feeding facilitation.6. The size of larval colonies of gregarious insects depends on natural mortality events as well as on female oviposition strategy. Our results show that decreasing colony size can lead to a reduction in growth rate and survival. It is therefore important to understand whether or not small colonies will benefit equally from the gregarious behaviour.


Aggregation; defence; growth; Lepidoptera; predation; Thaumetopoea pinivora; thermoregulation

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Ecological Entomology
2010, Volume: 35, number: 4, pages: 436-445

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