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Asymmetric regulation of caterpillar development by changes in photoperiod

Cite this dataset

Lindestad, Olle; Gotthard, Karl; Aalberg Haugen, Inger (2021). Asymmetric regulation of caterpillar development by changes in photoperiod [Dataset]. Dryad.


Many insects possess the plastic ability to either develop directly to adulthood, or enter diapause and postpone reproduction until the next year, depending on environmental cues (primarily photoperiod) that signal the amount of time remaining until the end of the growth season. These two alternative pathways often differ in co-adapted life history traits, e.g. with slower development and larger size in individuals headed for diapause. The developmental timing of these differences may be of adaptive importance: if traits diverge early, the potential for phenotypic differences between the pathways is greater, whereas if traits diverge late, the risk may be lower of expressing a maladaptive phenotype if the selective environment changes during development. Here we explore the effects of changes in photoperiodic information during life on pupal diapause and associated life history traits in the butterfly Pararge aegeria. We find that both pupal diapause and larval development rate are asymmetrically regulated: while exposure to long days late in life (regardless of earlier experiences) was sufficient to produce non-diapause development and accelerate larval development accordingly, more prolonged exposure to short days was required to induce diapause and slow down pre-diapause larval development. While the two developmental pathways diverged early in development, development rates could be partially reversed by altered environmental cues. Meanwhile, pathway differences in body size were more inflexible, despite emerging late in development. These results show how several traits may be shaped by the same environmental cue (photoperiod), but along subtly different ontogenies, into an integrated phenotype.


Larvae of the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria, were subjected to six different photoperiod treatments from hatching to pupation (two static, and four incorporating a change in photoperiod during development). The primary data recorded was the time (resolution = 1 day) at which larvae molted from one instar to the next (or to the pupal stage), the weight at each molt, and whether or not the mature pupa entered diapause (dormancy).

An R script is included that contains all the statistical analyses presented in the article to which this dataset belongs, including the generation of figures.

Usage notes

It is important to note that the dataset provided is post-mortality; it does not account for those individuals that died during the experiment (mortality rate not recorded, but is typically around 10-15% in similar laboratory experiments with this species).

Hatching weights and hatching dates are absent for one of the three populations used (Skåne), meaning that some analyses could not be carried out for this population. This should be apparent (when relevant) in the analysis script; otherwise, see article for details.

Some individuals are missing weights or dates at certain time points.

A ReadMe file is included with descriptions of the variables in the dataset.