Integrating large-scale geographic patterns in flight morphology, flight characteristics and sexual selection in a range-expanding damselfly

8 April 2014

Therry, Lieven; Gyulavári, Hajnalka; Schillewaert, Sharon; Bonte, Dries; Stoks, Robby

While geographic trait variation along environmental clines is widespread, associated patterns in sexual selection remain largely unexplored. Geographic patterns in sexual selection may be expected if (i) phenotypes vary geographically and sexual selection is dependent on the local phenotypes in the population, and if (ii) sexual selection is influenced by geographically structured environmental conditions. We quantified geographic variation in flight-related traits and flight performance in mated and unmated males and tested for geographic variation in sexual selection on these traits in the poleward range-expanding damselfly Coenagrion scitulum across a set of eleven core and edge populations ordered along thermal gradients in the larval and in the adult stage. We found little support for trait differentiation between core and edge populations, instead we found considerable geographic trait variation along the larval and adult thermal gradients. As expected under time constraints, body mass decreased with shorter larval growth seasons. Lower temperatures during the adult flight period were associated with a higher body mass, a higher flight speed and a higher fat content; these traits likely evolved to buffer flight ability at suboptimal temperatures and to optimize starvation resistance. Across the large geographic scale, we found a consistent higher flight duration in mated males. Instead, sexual selection for higher fat content was stronger in populations with lower adult flight temperatures and sexual selection for lower body mass acted only in edge populations. Our results indicate sexual selection on flight performance to be consistent over a large geographic scale and this despite the clear geographic patterns in sexual selection on the underlying morphological traits. Our results highlight that to fully understand the fitness implications of geographically changing trait patterns, researchers should consider the entire phenotype-performance-fitness axis and incorporate effects of geographically structured life-stage specific environmental conditions on this axis.