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Keywords:

  • cloud forests;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • movement;
  • plasticity;
  • resource;
  • Salamis parhassus

To cope with environmental constraints, organisms can show variation in phenotype, either by genetic adaptation or phenotypic plasticity. These patterns are especially pronounced in ecosystems that are under anthropogenic influence. Due to human-induced disturbances such as logging and deforestation, tropical forests comprise such a system. To date, most studies have dealt with ecological responses at the community level relative to forest disturbance or degradation. However, the evolutionary consequences of tropical forest deterioration on behaviour and functional morphology have received far less attention compared to temporal regions. From a resource-point of view, light conditions are essential for heliotherms such as butterflies. Because degradation of tropical cloud forests in the Taita Hills (Kenya) is very pronounced, the present study tested whether this induced changes in mate-location strategies, habitat-use, and functional flight morphology in a forest butterfly, Salamis parhassus. According to predictions from temperate regions, it was hypothesized that the species would change its mate location strategy from perching to patrolling in more disturbed forests, that this higher mobility results in a faster occupancy of light gaps, and that it accords with a higher wing loading within populations from undisturbed forests. These hypotheses were confirmed by field surveys and experiments. The present study demonstrates that degradation of tropical forests does not only affect communities (e.g. species richness), but also the behaviour and functional morphology of individual species. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 830–839.