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Transient habitats limit development time for periodical cicadas

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Periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) mature in 13 or 17 years, the longest development times for any non-diapausing insects. Selection may favor prolonged development since nymphs experience little mortality and individuals taking 17 years have been shown to have greater fecundity than those taking 13 years. Why don't periodical cicadas take even longer to develop? Nymphs feed on root xylem fluid and move little. Ovipositing females prefer fast-growing trees at forest edges. I hypothesized that (1) adults emerging at edges would be heavier than those from forest interiors and (2) habitat changes could limit development time. I collected newly eclosed females that had neither fed as adults nor moved from their site of development. For M. septendecim, females from edges were 4.9% heavier than those from the interior. I assumed that emergence density indicated habitat quality and measured density at eight sites in 1979, 1996, and 2013. Over three generations, variation in densities was great; densities at two sites crashed, and at one site they exploded to 579/m2 Habitat transience may limit development time because only adults can reassess habitats and reposition offspring. In conclusion, cicadas are affected by habitat characteristics, habitats change over 17 years, and cicadas may emerge, mate, and redistribute their offspring to track habitat dynamics.

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