Variable colour patterns indicate multidimensional, intraspecific trait variation and ecological generalization in moths

Anders Forsman, Daniela Polic, Johanna Sunde, Per‐Eric Betzholtz, Markus Franzén
2020 Ecography  
Animal colour patterns long have provided information about key processes that drive the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of biological diversity. Theory and empirical evidence indicate that variation in colour patterns and other traits among individuals generally improves the performance of populations and species, for example by reducing predation risk, increasing establishment success, improving resilience to environmental change, and decreasing risk of extinction. However, little is
more » ... n about whether and how variation in colour pattern among species is associated with variation in other phenotypic dimensions. To address this issue, we analysed associations of colour pattern with morphological, behavioural and life-history traits on the basis of data for nearly 400 species of noctuid moths. We found that moths with more variable colour patterns had longer flight activity periods, more diverse habitats and a greater number of host plant species than species with less variable colour patterns. Variable coloration in adult noctuid moths therefore can be considered as indicative of broader niches and generalist diets. Colour pattern variability was not significantly associated with overwintering stage or body size (wing span), and it was independent of whether the colour pattern of the larvae was non-variable, variable or highly variable. Colour pattern variation during the larval stage tended to increase as the duration of the flight activity period increased, but was independent of the length of the larval period, diet breadth and habitat use. The realization that information on colour pattern variation in adult moths, and possibly other organisms, offers a proxy for niche breadth and dietary generalization can inform management and conservation biology.
doi:10.1111/ecog.04923 fatcat:jb3pkwlxynhptf7tmdgpjypcla