Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 403–411 | Cite as

Contest behaviour in the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria): seasonal phenotypic plasticity and the functional significance of flight performance

  • Darrell J. KempEmail author
  • C. Wiklund
  • H. Van Dyck
Original Article


Although contemporary animal contest theory emphasises the importance of physical asymmetries in resolving disputes, such asymmetries do not obviously settle fights in all groups. Territorial male butterflies, for example, compete via elaborate non-contact aerial interactions in which success is determined by relative persistence. Prior research suggests that the resolution of these contests is not clearly related to physical variables such as body size or energy reserves. However, given that the contests involve elaborate aerial manoeuvres, one long-standing suggestion is that asymmetries in flight performance, and thus flight morphology, may be important. We addressed this hypothesis via a manipulative investigation into the biophysical correlates of contest success in the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria. This species possesses the ability for significant adaptive phenotypic plasticity in relevant flight morphological parameters. We took advantage of this plasticity to rear 90 individuals of markedly varying flight morphologies, which we then pitted against each other in a semi-controlled experimental fashion. Multiple logistic and lognormal analyses provided little evidence for the relevance of morphological parameters, including relative flight musculature, wing loading and wing aspect ratio (wing length relative to area), to the outcome and/or duration of experimental contests. Instead, we found a positive effect of age upon contest success. Given that ability for high acceleration is strongly linked to variation in these morphological parameters, our findings suggest that flight performance is not a strong determinant of resource-holding potential in this notably territorial butterfly.


Fighting Flight morphology Lepidoptera Resource-holding potential Sexual selection 



We thank John Alcock, Mark Elgar and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and Maarten Jacobs for assistance with measuring the butterflies. The Swedish Research Council supported DJK and CW.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Biodiversity Research Centre, Ecology and Biogeography unitCatholic University of LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

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