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Divergence in a transoceanic circumtropical dragonfly on a remote island

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One terrestrial invertebrate that naturally spans the globe and travels vast distances is the dragonfly Pantala flavescens (Fabricius) (Odonata: Libellulidae). Recently, there has been a strong call to compare island with continental biota so as to meaningfully characterize island forms. This is done here. The variation and differences in morphology and behaviour of an African continental (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) and a remote island population (Easter Island) of P. flavescens was investigated to determine whether the island population was panmictic with the migrant population, or whether it was a founder population. Several morphological characters were measured in both populations, and analysed using PCA, t-tests, coefficients of variation and Chi-square analyses. The continental and island populations were significantly different in body colour, head width and femur length. The island population had reduced hindwings, which were also more asymmetrical than the continental population, suggesting that the island individuals were possibly more genetically and environmentally stressed and had less genetic variation than the continental population. The island population was also more robust and flew lower to the ground than the continental population. There was no significant difference in body weight between the two populations because the migrant population had not begun to build up fat reserves for migration. Females were heavier than males in the continental population because they were carrying eggs. This was not the case in the island population because the individuals were not as mature. Colour was significantly different between the two populations, with island individuals having darker wings and abdomens, yet a lighter synthorax colouring than the continental population. Sexual dimorphism was marked in the abdomen and wing colour of the continental population, yet the island individuals showed more difference between the sexes in morphological characters than in colour. The fact that P. flavescens is the only species of dragonfly on Easter Island, and the great distance of the island from any mainland, suggests infrequent arrival of migrants arriving on the island, with resultant reduced genetic variation. The morphological and behavioural differences between the two populations suggests divergence is occurring.
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Keywords: Divergence; behaviour; continental; dragonfly; island; morphometrics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Invertebrate Conservation Research Centre, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa

Publication date: September 1, 1998

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