Wind plays a major but not exclusive role in the prevalence of insect flight loss on remote islands: Insect flight loss on islands

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Terrestrial species on islands often show reduced dispersal abilities. For insects, the generality of explanations for island flight loss remains contentious. Although habitat stability is considered the most plausible explanation, others are frequently highlighted. Adopting a strong inference approach, we examined the hypotheses proposed to account for the prevalence of flightlessness in island insect assemblages, for a region long suspected to be globally unusual in this regard - the Southern Ocean Islands (SOIs). Combining comprehensive faunal inventories, species' morphological information, and environmental variables from 28 SOIs, we provide the first quantitative evidence that flightlessness is exceptionally prevalent among indigenous SOI insect species (47%). Prevalence among species which have evolved elsewhere is much lower: Arctic island species (8%), species introduced to the SOIs (17%), and globally (estimated as approx. 5%). Variation in numbers of flightless species and genera across islands is best explained by variation in wind speed, although habitat stability (thermal seasonality proxy) may play a role. Variables associated with insularity, such as island size, are generally poor predictors of flightlessness. The outcomes redirect attention to Darwin's wind hypothesis. They suggest, however, that wind selects for flightlessness through an energy trade-off between flight and reproduction, instead of by displacement from suitable habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20202121
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1940
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020


  • flightlessness
  • functional diversity
  • island biogeography
  • natural selection
  • speciation
  • sub-Antarctic

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