Functional traits in red flour beetles: the dispersal phenotype is associated with leg length but not body size nor metabolic rate

Pieter A. Arnold, Phillip Cassey, Craig R. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals vary in their ability to disperse. Much of this variation can be described by covarying phenotypic traits that are related to dispersal (constituting the 'dispersal phenotype' or 'dispersal syndrome'), but the nature of the associations among these traits is not well understood. Unravelling the associations among traits that potentially constitute the dispersal phenotype provides a foundation for understanding evolutionary trade-offs due to variation in dispersal. Here, we tested five predictions pertaining to the relationships among physiological, morphological and movement traits that are associated with dispersal, using a species with a long history as a laboratory model for studying ecological phenomena, red flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum). We identified a dominant axis of movement ability that describes variation in dispersal-related movement traits. Individuals that scored positively on this axis moved at higher speed, travelled longer distances, had lower movement intermittency and dispersed quicker to a specified area. Relative leg length, but not body size nor routine metabolic rate related positively with movement ability, indicating a likely mechanistic relationship between increased stride length and movement ability. Our data suggest that the dispersal phenotype may be more strongly linked to morphological traits than physiological ones. We demonstrate that associations among many functional traits do not necessarily conform to a priori expectations, and predict that the substantial intraspecific variation in trait values may be important for selection. Movement is a complex behavioural trait, but it has a mechanistic basis in locomotor morphology that warrants further exploration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-661
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Tribolium castaneum
  • Activity
  • Dispersal syndrome
  • Locomotion
  • Movement
  • Physiology
  • Routine MR
  • Speed

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