Geographic clines in wing morphology relate to colonization history in new world but not old world populations of yellow dung flies

Martin A. Schäfer, David Berger, Patrick T. Rohner, Anders Kjaersgaard, Stephanie S. Bauerfeind, Frédéric Guillaume, Charles W. Fox, Wolf U. Blanckenhorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Geographic clines offer insights about putative targets and agents of natural selection as well as tempo and mode of adaptation. However, demographic processes can lead to clines that are indistinguishable from adaptive divergence. Using the widespread yellow dung fly Scathophaga stercoraria (Diptera: Scathophagidae), we examine quantitative genetic differentiation (QST) of wing shape across North America, Europe, and Japan, and compare this differentiation with that of ten microsatellites (FST). Morphometric analyses of 28 populations reared at three temperatures revealed significant thermal plasticity, sexual dimorphism, and geographic differentiation in wing shape. In North America morphological differentiation followed the decline in microsatellite variability along the presumed route of recent colonization from the southeast to the northwest. Across Europe, where S. stercoraria presumably existed for much longer time and where no molecular pattern of isolation by distance was evident, clinal variation was less pronounced despite significant morphological differentiation (QST >FST). Shape vector comparisons further indicate that thermal plasticity (hot-to-cold) does not mirror patterns of latitudinal divergence (south-to-north), as might have been expected under a scenario with temperature as the major agent of selection. Our findings illustrate the importance of detailed phylogeographic information when interpreting geographic clines of dispersal traits in an adaptive evolutionary framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1629-1644
Number of pages16
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all people listed in Table S1 for collecting flies. We are also grateful to A. Wegmann, U. Briegel, Y. Choffat, M. Nakano, and T. Siegenthaler for logistic support and H. Dolny, O. Schwery, S. Heldstab for their contribution to the molecular work. J. van Buskirk gave valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and C. P. Klingenberg gave helpful statistical advice. We also like to thank Ian Dworkin and three anonymous referees for improving the presentation of our work. This work was supported by grant no. 3100A0-111775 and several other grant contributions from the Swiss National Foundation, the Zoological Museum Zurich, and the University of Zurich over the years. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s), 2018 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Allometry
  • Biogeography
  • Developmental canalization
  • Dispersal
  • Gene flow
  • Insect flight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


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