Divergence of climbing escape flight performance in Morpho butterflies living in different microhabitats : In collection: Comparative biomechanics of movement

Roy, Camille le; Silva, Nicolas; Godoy, Ramiro; Debat, Vincent; Llaurens, Violaine; Muijres, F.T.


Habitat specialization can influence the evolution of animal movement in promoting divergent locomotor abilities adapted to contrasting environmental conditions, differences in vegetation clutter or predatory communities. While the effect of habitat on the evolution of locomotion and particularly escape performance has been well investigated in terrestrial animals, it remains understudied in flying animals. Here, we investigated whether specialization of Morpho butterfly species into different vertical strata of the Amazonian forest affects the performance of upward escape flight manoeuvres. Using stereoscopic high-speed videography, we compared the climbing flight kinematics of seven Morpho species living either in the forest canopy or in the understory. We show that butterflies from canopy species display strikingly higher climbing speed and steeper ascent angle compared with understory species. Although climbing speed increased with wing speed and angle of attack, the higher climb angle observed in canopy species was best explained by their higher body pitch angle, resulting in more upward-directed aerodynamic thrust forces. Climb angle also scales positively with weight-normalized wing area, and this weight-normalized wing area was higher in canopy species. This shows that a combined divergence in flight behaviour and morphology contributes to the evolution of increased climbing flight abilities in canopy species.