Leavey A, Taylor CH, Symonds MRE, Gilbert F, Reader T (2021) Mapping the evolution of accurate Batesian mimicry of social wasps in hoverflies. Evolution 75: 2802-2815

What’s it about?

We examine the degree of fidelity of >150 hoverfly species in terms of how well they mimic social wasps (include the standard scourge of picnics, Vespula germanica), investigating that mimicry both through human evaluation of the mimicry but also using the ‘distance-transform’ technique developed by Chris, Francis and Tom (co-authors on this paper). We found that degree of fidelity had both a phylogenetic signal (some lineages better than others), but also there were key ecological predictors such as body size (bigger hoverflies are better mimics) and how many times the species produces broods in a season.

What’s the story behind it?

Francis Gilbert is about the world’s leading authorities on hover-flies, and their biology, and remarkably mimicry abilities (or sometimes lack thereof) has been his life’s work. He, Tom Reader, and Chris Taylor have worked for a number of years on the issue of mimetic accuracy. I became involved when I visited the UK, back to my old home town of Nottingham, in 2016 for a short sabbatical to work with them. The idea of looking at mimetic accuracy in a phylogenetic comparative context was one idea that we worked on, but it wasn’t until they took on Alice Leavey, as a Masters student, that the work really got done. For a Masters project she did a fantastic job in what was not an easy data set to wrangle – not least because the phylogeny of hoverflies is not spectacularly well resolved (so we had to incorporate a number of ingenious work-arounds). This project was a huge amount of work for Alice with some very sophisticated approaches. It’s fantastic that she persisted with this, especially as she moved on to do a PhD in a different field, and the paper was actually rejected twice by Evolution (albeit with the door left open) – many would have given up. So glad she didn’t, as perseverance paid off.


One response »

  1. […] Matt has had a paper, a collaboration with colleagues at the University of Nottingham, on hoverfly mimicry accepted into Evolution. The result of several years’ work by a tireless Masters’ student, Alice Leavey, with Matt helping out with the phylogenetic comparative analysis. Great to have it accepted. You can find out more about it here […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s