1. Seasonal phenotypic plasticity entails differential trait expression depending on the time of season. The facultative induction of winter diapause in temperate insects is a developmental switch mechanism often leading to differential expression in life history traits. However, when there is a latitudinal shift from a bivoltine to univoltine life cycle, selection for pathway-specific expression is disrupted, which may allow drift towards less optimal trait values within the non-selected pathway.
2. We use field- and experimental data from five Swedish populations of Pararge aegeria to investigate latitudinal variation in voltinism, local adaptation in the diapause switch, and footprints of selection on pathway-specific regulation of life history traits and sexual dimorphism in larval development.
3. Field data clearly illustrated how natural populations gradually shift from bivoltinism to univoltinism as latitude increases. This was supported experimentally as the decrease in direct development at higher latitudes was accompanied by increasing critical daylengths, suggesting local adaptation in the diapause switch.
4. The differential expression among developmental pathways in development time and growth rate was significantly less pronounced in univoltine populations. Univoltine populations showed no significant signs of protandry during larval development, suggesting that erosion of the direct development pathway under relaxed selection has led to the loss of its sex-specific modifications.