Life in the undergrowth of the forest against its ca

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Bright and iconic colors Morpho Amazonian butterflies have developed a complex collection of adaptive aerodynamic and behavioral traits that allow them to navigate their tropical forest habitats. In a new study, researchers show how natural selection imposed by different microhabitats across forest strata can lead to a co-divergent evolution of wing shape and flight behavior in such closely related species. Flying insects like butterflies exhibit a diversity of flight patterns and aerodynamic mechanisms reflecting unique habitats and lifestyles. Studying how these creatures fly is essential to understanding how natural selection shapes flight. However, while insect flight has been studied in detail in several species, the evolution of flight among closely related species adapted to different habitats is not well understood. Using high-speed videography of free-flying butterflies, as well as morphometric analyzes and aerodynamic modeling, Camille Le Roy and her colleagues investigated codivergence in wing shape, aerodynamic efficiency and the flight behavior in “gliding flight” among 12 different Morpho species living in different forest strata. The Roy et al. discovered that these species have developed a diverse set of morphological and behavioral patterns that differ depending on whether they live in the understory or canopy of the forest. Those that have evolved to occupy crowded understory habitat exhibit more powerful wing-flapping phases, resulting in fast and agile flight. On the other hand, Morpho butterflies that have adapted to open canopy habitats have developed improved and efficient gliding abilities, through unique combinations of flight behavior, wing shape, and other aerodynamic mechanisms. These traits varied even among species living in the canopy, suggesting multiple pathways of adaptive evolution that led to the colonization of this part of the forest.


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