Main content area

Butterfly wing morphology variation in the British Isles: the influence of climate, behavioural posture and the hostplant-habitat

Dennis, R.L.H., Shreeve, T.G.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 1989 v.38 no.4 pp. 322-348
Lepidoptera, phenotype, evolution, paleoecology, thermoregulation, predators, habitats, mating behavior, climatic factors, wings, Scandinavia, United Kingdom
Gradients (isophenes) in modifications of butterfly wing morphology (colour, pattern, size) to the north and west of Britain are shown to correlate closely with contemporary environmental gradients, whereas their alleged formation as infra-specific units in Devensian refugia off western Britain is unsubstantiated. A model is described which explains the transformation in phenotypes in relationship to climate, especially ambient temperatures and radiation levels. In cooler, less predictable summer conditions to the north and west, selection has favoured modifications in adult phenotypes that maintain efficiency in thermoregulation, mate advertisement and predator escape. The form that wing modifications take depends mainly on basking posture (lateral, dorsal-absorption and reflectance), which determines the allocation and interaction of functions on different wing surfaces. It is also dependent on hostplant-habitat structure, which influences thermal stability and the milieu of predators and conspecifics, and other behavioural norms (mate-locating behaviour) and biological attributes (size, robustness, speed and mode of flight, chemical defences) which affect their relationships with predators and conspecifics. The significance of Quaternary palaeoenvironments to phenetic transformations is discussed as is the relevance of the model to the development of phenotypes in arctic endemic butterflies. Differences in phenotypes of butterflies which occupy arctic and temperate montane environments are also predicted by the model.