Contest behaviour in the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria): Seasonal phenotypic plasticity and the functional significance of flight performance

Darrell J. Kemp*, C. Wiklund, H. Van Dyck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Although contemporary animal contest theory emphasises the importance of physical asymmetries in resolving disputes, such asymmetries do not obviously settle fights in all groups. Territorial male butterflies, for example, compete via elaborate non-contact aerial interactions in which success is determined by relative persistence. Prior research suggests that the resolution of these contests is not clearly related to physical variables such as body size or energy reserves. However, given that the contests involve elaborate aerial manoeuvres, one long-standing suggestion is that asymmetries in flight performance, and thus flight morphology, may be important. We addressed this hypothesis via a manipulative investigation into the biophysical correlates of contest success in the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria. This species possesses the ability for significant adaptive phenotypic plasticity in relevant flight morphological parameters. We took advantage of this plasticity to rear 90 individuals of markedly varying flight morphologies, which we then pitted against each other in a semi-controlled experimental fashion. Multiple logistic and lognormal analyses provided little evidence for the relevance of morphological parameters, including relative flight musculature, wing loading and wing aspect ratio (wing length relative to area), to the outcome and/or duration of experimental contests. Instead, we found a positive effect of age upon contest success. Given that ability for high acceleration is strongly linked to variation in these morphological parameters, our findings suggest that flight performance is not a strong determinant of resource-holding potential in this notably territorial butterfly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-411
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Fighting
  • Flight morphology
  • Lepidoptera
  • Resource-holding potential
  • Sexual selection


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