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Evaluating the life-history trade-off between dispersal capability and reproduction in wing dimorphic insects: a meta-analysis


Department of Neurobiology, University of Massachusetts, Lazare Research Building 770-C, 364 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA, 01605, USA (E-mail:;


A life-history trade-off exists between flight capability and reproduction in many wing dimorphic insects: a long-winged morph is flight-capable at the expense of reproduction, while a short-winged morph cannot fly, is less mobile, but has greater reproductive output. Using meta-analyses, I investigated specific questions regarding this trade-off. The trade-off in females was expressed primarily as a later onset of egg production and lower fecundity in long-winged females relative to short-winged females. Although considerably less work has been done with males, the trade-off exists for males among traits primarily related to mate acquisition. The trade-off can potentially be mitigated in males, as long-winged individuals possess an advantage in traits that can offset the costs of flight capability such as a shorter development time. The strength and direction of trends differed significantly among insect orders, and there was a relationship between the strength and direction of trends with the relative flight capabilities between the morphs. I discuss how the trade-off might be both under- and overestimated in the literature, especially in light of work that has examined two relevant aspects of wing dimorphic species: (1) the effect of flight-muscle histolysis on reproductive investment; and (2) the performance of actual flight by flight-capable individuals.