Lack of morphological coevolution between male forelegs and female wings in Themira (Sepsidae: Diptera: Insecta)




The complex, species-specific foreleg armature in males of the genus Themira (Diptera: Sepsidae) provides an ideal system for testing competing hypotheses for the evolution of sexually dimorphic character divergence. In sepsid flies, the male holds onto the female by clasping her wing base with his modified forelegs. In the present study, we document the male leg and the female wing morphology using scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy. We use a phylogenetic tree for Themira to reconstruct male foreleg and female wing evolution and demonstrate that the male legs have evolved elaborate structures with little or no corresponding changes in wing morphology. This lack of interspecific variation in female wings is not in agreement with the hypothesis of a morphological ‘evolutionary arms race’ between males and females. However, there is also no evidence for sex-specific wing differences in sensory organs on the wing base that may explain how females could assess males according to Eberhard's ‘cryptic female choice’ hypothesis. Finally, our study reveals the function of several novel morphological clasping structures and documents that the male foreleg characters in Themira are highly homoplastic. Male forelegs in two clades evolve considerably faster than in other species or clades. These two clades include Themira superba and Themira leachi, species that have some of the most dramatically modified forelegs known in Diptera. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 93, 227–238.