Dispersal propensity, but not flight performance, explains variation in dispersal ability
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Enhanced dispersal ability may lead to accelerated range expansion and increased rates of population establishment, thereby affecting population genetic structure and evolutionary potential. Morphological, behavioural and physiological traits that characterize dispersive individuals from residents are poorly understood for many invertebrate systems, especially in non-polymorphic pterygote species. Here we examined phenotypic differences between dispersal-prone and philopatric individuals from repeated mark-release-recapture (MRR) experiments using an invasive agricultural pest, Ceratitis capitata. Comprehensive morphometric assessment and subsequent minimal adequate modelling using an information theoretic approach identified thorax mass : body mass ratio as a key predictor of disperser flies under semi-natural conditions. Performance differences in flight ability were then examined under controlled laboratory conditions to assess whether greater thorax mass : body mass ratio was associated with enhanced flight ability. The larger thorax : body mass ratio was associated with measurable differences in mean flight duration, most predominantly in males, and also by their willingness to disperse, scored as the number and duration of voluntary flights. No other measures of whole-animal flight performance (e.g. mean and peak vertical force, total or maximum flight duration) differed. Variation in voluntary behaviour may result in significant alterations of movement behaviour and realized dispersal in nature. This phenomenon may help explain intraspecific variation in the dispersal ability of insects.