Dispersal and migration have contrasting effects on butterfly flight morphology and reproduction

Biol Lett. 2020 Aug;16(8):20200393. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0393. Epub 2020 Aug 19.


Movement may fundamentally alter morphology and reproductive states in insects. In long-distance migrants, reproductive diapause is associated with trade-offs between diverse life-history traits such as flight morphology and lifespan. However, many non-diapausing insects engage in shorter resource-driven dispersals. How diapause and other reproductive states alter flight morphology in migrating versus dispersing insects is poorly understood. To find out, we compared flight morphology in different reproductive states of multiple butterfly species. We found that dispersers consisted of ovulating females with higher egg loads compared with non-dispersing females. This trend was in stark contrast with that of migrating female butterflies in reproductive diapause, which made substantially higher investment in flight tissue compared with reproductively active, non-migrating females. Thus, long-distance migration and shorter resource-driven dispersals had contrasting effects on flight morphology and egg loads. By contrast, male flight morphology was not affected by dispersal, migration or associated reproductive states. Thus, dispersal and migration affected resource allocation in flight and reproductive tissue in a sex-specific manner across relatively mobile versus non-dispersing individuals of different species. These findings suggest that dispersals between fragmented habitats may put extra stress on egg-carrying females by increasing their flight burdens.

Keywords: facultative dispersal; life-history traits; reproductive diapause; resource allocation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies*
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal
  • Humans
  • Insecta
  • Longevity
  • Male
  • Reproduction

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.nvx0k6dnh
  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5089514