Male-biased sex ratios in mature damselfly populations: real or artefact?


  • Robby Stoks

    1. Evolutionary Biology Group and Laboratory for Animal Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Belgium and Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, U.S.A.
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Robby Stoks, Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, U.S.A.


1. There is ongoing controversy about whether biased sex ratios in diploid insect populations are real or an artefact caused by different behaviours and/or different catchability of the sexes. This was tested by monitoring two field and three semi-natural populations of the damselfly Lestes sponsa.

2. Capture–mark–recapture data showed that population size estimates were about twice as large for males as for females at both field sites. Independent estimates of the sex ratios based on total numbers of males and females captured supported the male bias.

3. Males had higher recapture probabilities than females due to longer times between successive visits in females. Because the same pattern was found in the semi-natural populations, the longer intervals in females are no artefact due to their lower detectability.

4. Theoretical models show that the strong temporary emigration of females tends, if anything, to overestimate female population sizes and that the heterogeneity of recapture probabilities observed in males tends to underestimate male population sizes. Hence, behavioural differences between the sexes do not cause an artificially male-biased sex ratio.

5. Spatial data show that operational sex ratios are male biased at the pond but become female biased in the plots further away from the shoreline; however because of the decrease in densities away from the shoreline, this does not result in a global even sex ratio.

6. Spatial data, temporary emigration patterns, and independent estimates suggest strongly that the male-biased sex ratios in mature damselfly populations are real.