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Relationship between body size and flying-related structures in Neotropical social wasps (Polistinae, Vespidae, Hymenoptera)


Body size influences wing shape and associated muscles in flying animals which is a conspicuous phenomenon in insects, given their wide range in body size. Despite the significance of this, to date, no detailed study has been conducted across a group of species with similar biology allowing a look at specific relationship between body size and flying structures. Neotropical social vespids are a model group to study this problem as they are strong predators that rely heavily on flight while exhibiting a wide range in body size. In this paper we describe the variation in both wing shape, as wing planform, and mesosoma muscle size along the body size gradient of the Neotropical social wasps and discuss the potential factors affecting these changes. Analyses of 56 species were conducted using geometric morphometrics for the wings and lineal morphometrics for the body; independent contrast method regressions were used to correct for the phylogenetic effect. Smaller vespid species exhibit rounded wings, veins that are more concentrated in the proximal region, larger stigmata and the mesosoma is proportionally larger than in larger species. Meanwhile, larger species have more elongated wings, more distally extended venation, smaller stigmata and a proportionally smaller mesosoma. The differences in wing shape and other traits could be related to differences in flight demands caused by smaller and larger body sizes. Species around the extremes of body size distribution may invest more in flight muscle mass than species of intermediate sizes.

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The authors thank A. Amarillo, E. Martins, R. Dudley, J. Billen, H. Wang, F. Noll, J. Carpenter, K. Pickett, T. Harwell, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments. Ronald Frisk improved the writing. This research was supported by the Sciences College and the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the Colombian National Parks Unit, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Colombia, and the National Science Foundation grants DEB 9972024 and 0205982 to M. Sharkey and B. Brown. We thank Carolina Medellin for the drawings.

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Correspondence to Carlos E. Sarmiento.

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Communicated by T. Bartolomaeus.

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García, Z., Sarmiento, C.E. Relationship between body size and flying-related structures in Neotropical social wasps (Polistinae, Vespidae, Hymenoptera). Zoomorphology 131, 25–35 (2012).

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  • Allometry
  • Independent contrasts
  • Wings
  • Mesosoma
  • Geometric morphometrics