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Flight morphology along a latitudinal gradient in a butterfly: do geographic clines differ between agricultural and woodland landscapes?


  • Sofie Vandewoestijne,

  • Hans Van Dyck

S. Vandewoestijne ( and H. Van Dyck, Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Group, Biodiversity Research Centre Earth and Life Inst., Univ. catholique de Louvain (UCL) Croix du Sud 4, BE-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


Bergman and converse Bergman rules, amongst others, describe latitudinal variation in size of organisms, including flying ectotherms like butterflies. However, geographic clines in morphological traits of functional significance for flight performance and thermoregulation may also exist, although they have received less attention within a biogeographical context. Variation in flight-related morphology has often been studied relative to landscape structure. However, the extent to which landscape effects interact with latitudinal clines of phenotypic variation has rarely been tested. Here we address the effect of latitude, landscape type and the interaction effect on body size and flight-related morphology in the speckled wood butterfly Pararge aegeria. Male adult butterflies were collected from two replicate populations in each agricultural and woodland landscape types along a 700 km cline in six latitudinal zones. Overall size, adult body mass and wing area increased with latitude in line with Bergmann's rule. Forewing length, however, decreased with latitude. As predicted from thermoregulatory needs in ectotherms, the basal wing part was darker to the north. Latitudinal trends for flight-related morphological traits were opposite to predictions about flight endurance under cooler conditions that were observed in some non-lepidopteran insects, i.e. wing loading increased and wing aspect ratio decreased with latitude. Opposite trends can, however, be explained by other aspects of butterfly flight performance (i.e. mate-location behaviour). As predicted from differences in environmental buffering in woodland landscapes along the latitudinal gradient, significant landscape×latitude interaction effects indicated stronger latitudinal clines and stronger phenotypic variation for size and flight morphology in the agricultural landscape compared to the woodland landscape. In agreement with significant interaction effects, morphological differentiation increased with latitude and was higher between population pairs of agricultural landscape than between population pairs of woodland landscape. These results demonstrate that landscape, latitude and their interaction contribute to the understanding of the complex geographic variation in P. aegeria adult phenotypes across Europe.