Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On linking ecology to sexual selection

Together with John Waller, I have a paper that is now out in American Naturalist as an E-article, meaning that it is "Open Acess" and possible for anyone to download. Go here, if you would like to download a PDF of this paper. I am very much in favour of the OA-model of publishing, and I certainly hope that the publication fees we paid will also result in more citations.

This study, which was fun to do and write up, takes a look at the important link between ecology and sexual selection. We were interested in the functional significance and evolutionary consequences of wing pigmentation in calopterygid damselflies, and we used a mixture of comparative phylogenetic analyses and field studies using thermal imaging to adress this issue. In particular, we wanted to see if there was any obvious thermal benefit of male wing pigmentation, which also has important functions in sexual selection, male-male competition and species recognition. Turns out that the evidence for such a thermal benefit is mixed, although there is a clear biogeographic signature in the sense that pigmented clades are more common in northern regions and temperate climates.

Wing pigmentation is also significantly associated with eleved speciation and extinction rates, using so-called BiSSE-analyses ("Binary Speciation and Extinction") as implemented in Diversitree. This latter result provides comparative support to our previous experimental work demonstrating that wing pigmentation functions as a species recognition character between C. splendens and C. virgo, and suggest that wing pigmentation is generally involved across the entire group as a promoter of speciation, although most species formed by such non-ecological sexual selection tend to go extinct fairly soon after they have formed.

In general, I think there are too few studies where comparative approaches and field experiments are combined, as both have strength and weaknesses and inferences could be stronger if they are combined (Disclaimer: in case some sensitive theoretical ecologist reads this post, I do of course also think there are other interesting and useful research approaches, such as mathematical models).

Ecology and Sexual Selection: Evolution of Wing Pigmentation in Calopterygid Damselflies in Relation to Latitude, Sexual Dimorphism, and Speciation

American Naturalist (in press, November 2013)


Our knowledge about how the environment influences sexual selection regimes and how ecology and sexual selection interact is still limited. We performed an integrative study of wing pigmentation in calopterygid damselflies, combining phylogenetic comparative analyses, field observations and experiments. We investigated the evolutionary consequences of wing pigmentation for sexual dimorphism, speciation, and extinction and addressed the possible thermoregulatory benefits of pigmentation. First, we reconstructed ancestral states of male and female phenotypes and traced the evolutionary change of wing pigmentation. Clear wings are the ancestral state and that pigmentation dimorphism is derived, suggesting that sexual selection results in sexual dimorphism. We further demonstrate that pigmentation elevates speciation and extinction rates. We also document a significant biogeographic association with pigmented species primarily occupying northern temperate regions with cooler climates. Field observations and experiments on two temperate sympatric species suggest a link between pigmentation, thermoregulation, and sexual selection, although body temperature is also affected by other phenotypic traits such as body mass, microhabitat selection, and thermoregulatory behaviors. Taken together, our results suggest an important role for wing pigmentation in sexual selection in males and in speciation. Wing pigmentation might not increase ecological adaptation and species longevity, and its primary function is in sexual signaling and species recognition.

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