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Data from: Cruising the rain forest floor: butterfly wing shape evolution and gliding in ground effect

Cite this dataset

Cespedes, Ann; Penz, Carla M.; DeVries, Phil J.; DeVries, Philip J. (2014). Data from: Cruising the rain forest floor: butterfly wing shape evolution and gliding in ground effect [Dataset]. Dryad.


Flight is a key innovation in the evolutionary success of insects and essential to dispersal, territoriality, courtship and oviposition. Wing shape influences flight performance and selection likely acts to maximize performance for conducting essential behaviours that in turn results in evolution of wing shape. As wing shape also contributes to fitness, optimal shapes for particular flight behaviours can be assessed with aerodynamic predictions and placed in an ecomorphological context. Butterflies in the tribe Haeterini (Nymphalidae) are conspicuous members of understory faunas in lowland Neotropical forests. Field observations indicate that the five genera in this clade differ in flight height and behaviour: four use gliding flight at the forest floor level, and one utilizes flapping flight above the forest floor. Nonetheless, the association of ground level gliding flight behaviour and wing shape has never been investigated in this or any other butterfly group. We used landmark-based geometric morphometrics to test whether wing shapes in Haeterini and their close relatives reflected observed flight behaviours. Four genera of Haeterini and some distantly related Satyrinae showed significant correspondence between wing shape and theoretical expectations in performance tradeoffs that we attribute to selection for gliding in ground effect. Forewing shape differed between sexes for all taxa, and male wing shapes were aerodynamically more efficient for gliding flight than corresponding females. This suggests selection acts differentially on male and female wing shapes, reinforcing the idea that sex-specific flight behaviours contribute to the evolution of sexual dimorphism. Our study indicates that wing shapes in Haeterini butterflies evolved in response to habitat-specific flight behaviors, namely gliding in ground effect along the forest floor, resulting in ecomorphological partitions of taxa in morphospace. The convergent flight behaviour and wing morphology between tribes of Satyrinae suggests that the flight environment may offset phylogenetic constraints. Overall, this study provides a basis for exploring similar patterns of wing shape evolution in other taxa that glide in ground effect.

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