, Volume 121, Issue 2, pp 165-170

Evolution of flight morphology in a butterfly that has recently expanded its geographic range

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Individuals colonizing unoccupied habitats typically possess characters associated with increased dispersal and, in insects, colonization success has been related to flight morphology. The speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria, has undergone recent major expansions in its distribution: in the north of its range, P. aegeria has colonized many areas in north and east England, and in the south, it was first recorded on Madeira in 1976. We examined morphological traits associated with flight and reproduction in the northern subspecies tircis, and in the southern subspecies aegeria, from sites colonized about 20 years ago in northern England and on Madeira, respectively. Investment in flight was measured as relative wing area and thorax mass, and investment in reproduction as relative abdomen mass. All measurements were from individuals reared in a common environment and there were significant family effects in most of the variables measured. Compared with individuals from sites continuously occupied in recent history, colonizing individuals were larger (adult live mass). In the subspecies tircis, colonizing individuals also had relatively larger thoraxes and lower wing aspect ratios indicating that evolutionary changes in flight morphology may be related to colonization. However, sex by site interactions in analyses of thorax mass and abdomen mass suggest different selection pressures on flight morphology between the sexes in relation to colonization. Overall, the subspecies aegeria was smaller (adult live mass) and had a relatively larger thorax and wings, and smaller abdomen than subspecies tircis. Evolutionary changes in flight morphology and dispersal rate may be important determinants of range expansion, and may affect responses to future climate change.

Received: 1 March 1999 / Accepted: 30 June 1999