Body size varies considerably among species and among populations within species, exhibiting many repeatable patterns. However, which sources of selection generate geographic patterns, and which components of fitness mediate evolution of body size, are not well understood. For many animals, resource quality and intraspecific competition may mediate selection on body size producing large-scale geographic patterns. In two sequential experiments, we examine how variation in larval competition and resource quality (seed size) affects the fitness consequences of variation in body size in a scramble-competing seed-feeding beetle, Stator limbatus. Specifically, we compared fitness components among three natural populations of S. limbatus that vary in body size, and then among three lineages of beetles derived from a single base population artificially selected to vary in size, all reared on three sizes of seeds at variable larval density. The effects of larval competition and seed size on larval survival and development time were similar for larger versus smaller beetles. However, larger-bodied beetles suffered a greater reduction in adult body mass with decreasing seed size and increasing larval density; the relative advantage of being large decreased with decreasing seed size and increasing larval density. There were highly significant interactions between the effects of seed size and larval density on body size, and a significant three-way interaction (population-by-density-by-seed size), indicating that environmental effects on the fitness consequences of being large are nonadditive. Our study demonstrates how multiple ecological variables (resource availability and resource competition) interact to affect organismal fitness components, and that such interactions can mediate natural selection on body size. Studying individual factors influencing selection on body size may lead to misleading results given the potential for nonlinear interactions among selective agents.

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Published in Ecology and Evolution, v. 1, issue 1, p. 1-14.

© 2011 The Authors.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

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This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DEB-02-71929 to CWF), the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (to CWF), and Fundación para la Promoción de la Investigación y la Tecnología, Banco de la República, Colombia (Grants 1568 and 620 to AA-S).