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Adaptive strategies of high-flying migratory hoverflies in response to wind currents

Cite this dataset

Chapman, Jason; Gao, Boya (2020). Adaptive strategies of high-flying migratory hoverflies in response to wind currents [Dataset]. Dryad.


Large migrating insects, flying at high altitude, often exhibit complex behaviour. They frequently elect to fly on winds with directions quite different from the prevailing direction, and they show a degree of common orientation, both of which facilitate transport in seasonally beneficial directions. Much less is known about the migration behaviour of smaller (10–70 mg) insects. To address this issue, we used radar to examine the high-altitude flight of hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae), a group of day-active, medium-sized insects commonly migrating over the UK. We found that autumn migrants, which must move south, did indeed show migration timings and orientation responses that would take them in this direction, despite the unfavourability of the prevailing winds. Evidently, these hoverfly migrants must have a compass (probably a time-compensated solar mechanism), and a means of sensing the wind direction (which may be determined with sufficient accuracy at ground level, before take-off). By contrast, hoverflies arriving in the UK in spring showed weaker orientation tendencies, and did not correct for wind drift away from their seasonally adaptive direction (northwards). However, the spring migrants necessarily come from the south (on warm southerly winds), so we surmise that complex orientation behaviour may not be so crucial for the spring movements.


The data on hoverfly orientations was collected by vertical-looking entomological radars based in southern UK. These radars are an established tool for collecting insect flight behaviour, and the methodology is described in detail in the associated publication and other related papers found in the bibliography. The dataset consists of a list of migration track directions, flight headings, and moveemnt speeds for all mass hoverfly migrations analysed in this study, and also the wind speed and direction on these occasions.

Usage notes

The data is straightfoward to interpet and use.


China Scholarship Council

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: BK20170026

European Commission, Award: 795568

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31822043

Royal Society University Research Fellowship scheme, Award: UF150126

Jiangsu Graduate Research and Innovation Projects, Award: Z561911412