Skip to main content

Evolution of body size and wing shape trade-offs in arsenurine silkmoths

Cite this dataset

Hamilton, Chris et al. (2021). Evolution of body size and wing shape trade-offs in arsenurine silkmoths [Dataset]. Dryad.


One of the key objectives in biological research is understanding how evolutionary processes have produced Earth's diversity. A critical step towards revealing these processes is an investigation of evolutionary tradeoffs – that is, the opposing pressures of multiple selective forces. For millennia, nocturnal moths have had to balance successful flight, as they search for mates or host plants, with evading bat predators. However, the potential for evolutionary trade-offs between wing shape and body size are poorly understood. In this study, we used phylogenomics and geometric morphometrics to examine the evolution of wing shape in the wild silkmoth subfamily Arsenurinae (Saturniidae) and evaluate potential evolutionary relationships between body size and wing shape. The phylogeny was inferred based on 782 loci from target capture data of 42 arsenurine species representing all 10 recognized genera. After detecting in our data one of the most vexing problems in phylogenetic inference – a region of a tree that possesses short branches and no “support” for relationships (i.e., a polytomy), we looked for hidden phylogenomic signal (i.e., inspecting differing phylogenetic inferences, alternative support values, quartets, and phylogenetic networks) to better illuminate the most probable generic relationships within the subfamily.

We found there are putative evolutionary trade-offs between wing shape, body size, and the interaction of fore- and hindwing shape. Namely, body size tends to decrease with increasing hindwing length but increases as forewing shape becomes more complex. Additionally, the type of hindwing (i.e., tail or no tail) a lineage possesses has a significant effect on the complexity of forewing shape. We outline possible selective forces driving the complex hindwing shapes that make Arsenurinae, and silkmoths as a whole, so charismatic.


1. Anchored Hybrid Enrichment phylogenomics (includes all consensus alignment FASTA files, loci information, partition files, tree files, and other essential data files used for phylogenetic inference)

2. Wing shape data for geometric morphometrics and elliptical fourier analysis (includes all images for geometric morphometrics and outputs for comparative analyses)


National Science Foundation, Award: 1557007

Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/P003915/1

Agence Nationale de la Recherche, Award: SPHINX 16-CE02-0011-01

National Science Foundation, Award: 1121739

National Science Foundation, Award: 1121807

National Science Foundation, Award: 1920895

National Science Foundation, Award: 1920936

National Science Foundation, Award: 1349345

National Science Foundation, Award: 1601369

National Science Foundation, Award: 1612862