For animals that synthesise their chemical compounds de novo, resources, particularly proteins, can influence investment in chemical defences and nitrogen-based wing colouration such as melanin. Competing for the same resources often leads to trade-offs in resource allocation. We manipulated protein availability in the larval diet of the wood tiger moth, Arctia plantaginis, to test how early life resource availability influences relevant life history traits, melanin production and chemical defences. We expected higher dietary protein to result in more effective chemical defences in adult moths and a higher amount of melanin in the wings. According to the resource allocation hypothesis, we also expected individuals with less melanin to have more resources to allocate to chemical defences. We found that protein-deprived moths had a slower larval development, and their chemical defences were less unpalatable for bird predators, but the expression of melanin in their wings did not differ from that of moths raised on a high-protein diet. The amount of melanin in the wings, however, unexpectedly correlated positively with chemical defences. Our findings demonstrate that the resources available in early life have an important role in the efficacy of chemical defences, but melanin-based warning colours are less sensitive to resource variability than other fitness-related traits.

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