Adaptive evolution of flight in Morpho butterflies

Science. 2021 Nov 26;374(6571):1158-1162. doi: 10.1126/science.abh2620. Epub 2021 Nov 25.


The diversity of flying animals suggests that countless combinations of flight morphologies and behaviors have evolved with specific lifestyles, thereby exploiting diverse aerodynamic mechanisms. How morphology, flight behavior, and aerodynamic properties together diversify with contrasting ecology remains to be elucidated. We studied the adaptive codivergence in wing shape, flight behavior, and aerodynamic efficiency among Morpho butterflies living in different forest strata by combining high-speed videography in the field with morphometric analyses and aerodynamic modeling. By comparing canopy and understory species, we show that adaptation to an open canopy environment resulted in increased glide efficiency. Moreover, this enhanced glide efficiency was achieved by different canopy species through distinct combinations of flight behavior, wing shape, and aerodynamic mechanisms, highlighting the multiple pathways of adaptive evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology*
  • Butterflies / genetics
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Forests*
  • Male
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology*
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.cz8w9gj44