MRE Symonds, TL Johnson, MA Elgar (2012) Pheromone production, male abundance, body size and the evolution of elaborate antennae in moths. Ecology and Evolution 2: 227-246 PDF

What’s it about?

A phylogenetic comparative analysis designed to examine why some species of moth have elaborate feathery antennae. The classic explanation is that moths have these big antennae because they need to be able to detect small amounts of sex pheromone produced by females. However we found no evidence of link between pheromone titre and antennal size or structure. However, in species that have elaborate antennae, there is an evolutionary correlation between antennal size and population density (larger antennae in less abundant species) and the mean molecular weight of the pheromone (larger antennae with more volatile components).

What’s the story behind it?

Mark Elgar and I had had an interest in receiver structures in insects and what drives diversity in gross antennal structure, and Tamara has been working in this field in both her honours and PhD and had collected a fair amount of information on interspecific variation in antennal size. This paper was therefore the result of a lot of pouring over the moth literature to extract quite obscure information on pheromone production and composition, estimates of population density and also moth phylogeny (which was surprisingly poor, although things are getting better). We decided to try our luck at a new journal, Ecology and Evolution with this paper. Perhaps a mistake.

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