Multi-modal locomotor costs favor smaller males in a sexually dimorphic leaf-mimicking insect

Romain P. Boisseau, Thies H. Büscher, Lexi J. Klawitter, Stanislav N. Gorb, Douglas J. Emlen, Bret W. Tobalske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: In most arthropods, adult females are larger than males, and male competition is a race to quickly locate and mate with scattered females (scramble competition polygyny). Variation in body size among males may confer advantages that depend on context. Smaller males may be favored due to more efficient locomotion leading to higher mobility during mate searching. Alternatively, larger males may benefit from increased speed and higher survivorship. While the relationship between male body size and mobility has been investigated in several systems, how different aspects of male body morphology specifically affect their locomotor performance in different contexts is often unclear. Results: Using a combination of empirical measures of flight performance and modelling of body aerodynamics, we show that large body size impairs flight performance in male leaf insects (Phyllium philippinicum), a species where relatively small and skinny males fly through the canopy in search of large sedentary females. Smaller males were more agile in the air and ascended more rapidly during flight. Our models further predicted that variation in body shape would affect body lift and drag but suggested that flight costs may not explain the evolution of strong sexual dimorphism in body shape in this species. Finally, empirical measurements of substrate adhesion and subsequent modelling of landing impact forces suggested that smaller males had a lower risk of detaching from the substrates on which they walk and land. Conclusions: By showing that male body size impairs their flight and substrate adhesion performance, we provide support to the hypothesis that smaller scrambling males benefit from an increased locomotor performance and shed light on the evolution of sexual dimorphism in scramble competition mating systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number39
JournalBMC Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Adhesion
  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Flight
  • Phasmatodea
  • Scramble competition


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