Lifetime Resource Utilization, Flight Physiology, and the Evolution of Contest Competition in Territorial Insects

Darrell J. Kemp, John Alcock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Adaptationist analyses of animal contests have contributed much to our understanding of behavioral evolution. One class of contest, however, the war of attrition, has proven difficult to interpret. In wars of attrition involving aerial displays, there is evidence that asymmetries in performance parameters such as flight energetics may be important determinants of contest resolution. This paradigm is not universal, however, and we presently lack a framework for understanding why certain biophysical parameters are important only in some cases. One possibility is that the relevance of these parameters is determined by evolutionarily conserved life-history-scale patterns of resource allocation and acquisition. We evaluated this hypothesis by investigating the correlates of competitive success in two territorial insects that exemplify markedly different lifetime patterns of resource utilization. We found that in the bot fly Cuterebra austeni, an extreme capital breeding species that depends entirely on energy acquired during its immature stages, territorial residency was most strongly correlated with a size-independent measure of energetic availability. In contrast, residency in the tarantula hawk wasp Hemipepsis ustulata was best predicted by variation in body size per se. Adult H. ustulata are able to supplement their larval-derived nutrient capital in the manner of an income breeder, and fuel reserves were independent of age and actually correlated negatively with residency in this species. These results underscore how the study of sexually selected phenomena may be enriched by an explicit consideration of life-history principles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-301
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2003 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in The American Naturalist.


  • Life history
  • Resource allocation
  • Territoriality
  • War of attrition


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