Tuesday 5 October 2010

The fast woodlouse

ResearchBlogging.orgI have featured two common woodlice species before. There is a third common garden species, the fast woodlouse, Philoscia muscorum. As it name implies, it is quite fast, with long legs that keep its body well above the ground. Its dark, rounded head, and a longitudinal dark stripe along its shiny, marbled body, make it easy to identify (for a simple key to ID British woodlice click here). The fast woodlouse is a native European species which is also found in the U.S. It is of medium size (around 1 cm.) and inhabits a range of habitats from sand dunes to woodland. A P. muscorum population living in the dunes of Spurn Head investigated by Grundy and Sutton showed the phenomenon of year-class splitting. This means that there are two reproductive strategies amongst individuals born each particular season. The 'fast growers' reproduce when they are one year old and die, the 'slow growers' breed for the first and only time when they are in their second year.
Figure from Grundy and Sutton 1989. Note that the dark (slow) growers are joined in their second year by a new cohort (in grey).
Grundy and Sutton's experiments showed that females only reproduced with they reach large size and they have one or two broods (rarely three) with an interbrood period of 5.4 weeks. This and the positive relationship between temperature and growth rate means that most individuals born in the first brood are able to reach a large size before winter sets in and start growing faster when the breeding season arrives. Most individuals born in the second brood (a bit more than a month later) miss out on the benign growing conditions and are too small after the winter and when the next breeding season arrives they are still too small and waiting until the following breeding period makes sense to maximize their chances of reproducing successfully.
More information
Grundy, A. & Sutton, S. (1989). Year class splitting in the woodlouse Philoscia muscorum explained through studies of growth and survivorship Ecography, 12 (2), 112-119 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.1989.tb00829.x

1 comment:

Antje said...

That's amazing, thank you!