Parallel shifts in flight-height associated with altitude across incipient Heliconius species

David F. Rivas-Sánchez, Carlos H. Gantiva-Q, Carolina Pardo-Díaz, Camilo Salazar, Stephen H. Montgomery, Richard M. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch Articlepeer-review


Vertical gradients in microclimate, resource availability, and interspecific interactions are thought to underly stratification patterns in tropical insect communities. However, only a few studies have explored the adaptive significance of vertical space use during the early stages of reproductive isolation. We analysed flight-height variation across speciation events in Heliconius butterflies, representing parallel colonizations of high-altitude forest. We measured flight-height in wild H. erato venus and H. chestertonii, parapatric lowland and mountain specialists, respectively, and found that H. chestertonii consistently flies at a lower height. By comparing our data to previously published results for the ecologically equivalent H. e. cyrbia (lowland) and H. himera (high altitude), we found that the species flying closest to the ground are those that recently colonized high-altitude forests. We show that these repeated trends largely result from shared patterns of ecological selection producing parallel trait-shifts in H. himera and H. chestertonii. Although our results imply a signature of local adaptation, we did not find an association between resource distribution and flight-height in H. e. venus and H. chestertonii. We discuss how this pattern may be explained by variations in forest structure and microclimate. Overall, our findings underscore the importance of behavioural adjustments during early divergence mediated by altitude-shifts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-129
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 29 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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