Adult body size, one of the most important life-history components, varies strongly within and between Heliconius erato phyllis (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) populations. This study determines if this variation is caused by geographical changes in host-plant used by the larval stage, whose reproductive parameters are influenced by female body size, with estimates of the corresponding heritability. The variation in adult body size was determined together with a survey of passion vine species (Passifloraceae) used by the larvae in seven localities in Rio Grande do Sul State: three located in the urban area of Porto Alegre and Triunfo Counties, two within Eucalyptus plantations (Barba Negra Forest, Barra do Ribeiro County, and Águas Belas Experimental Station -- Viamão County), one in a Myrtaceae Forest (Itapuã State Park -- Itapuã County) and one in the Atlantic Rain Forest (Maquiné Experimental Station -- Maquiné County). Effects of female body size on fecundity, egg size and egg viability were determined in an outdoor insectary. Size heritability was estimated by rearing in the laboratory offspring of individuals maintained in an insectary. The data showed that adults from populations where larvae feed only upon Passiflora suberosa are smaller than those that feed on Passiflora misera. The larvae prefer P. misera even when the dominant passion vine in a given place is P. suberosa. Fecundity increases linearly with the increase in size of females, but there is no size effect on egg size or viability. Size heritability is null for the adult size range occurring in the field. Thus, the geographical variation of H. erato phyllis adult size is primarily determined by the type, corresponding availability and quality of host-plants used by the larval stage. Within the natural size range of H. erato phyllis, the variation related to this caracter is not genetically based, thus being part of H. erato phyllis phenotypic plasticity.
body size; passion vines; heliconian butterflies; reproductive success; heritability