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Concept: Odonata


This work is a synthesis of our current understanding of the mechanics, aerodynamics and visually mediated control of dragonfly and damselfly flight, with the addition of new experimental and computational data in several key areas. These are: the diversity of dragonfly wing morphologies, the aerodynamics of gliding flight, force generation in flapping flight, aerodynamic efficiency, comparative flight performance and pursuit strategies during predatory and territorial flights. New data are set in context by brief reviews covering anatomy at several scales, insect aerodynamics, neuromechanics and behaviour. We achieve a new perspective by means of a diverse range of techniques, including laser-line mapping of wing topographies, computational fluid dynamics simulations of finely detailed wing geometries, quantitative imaging using particle image velocimetry of on-wing and wake flow patterns, classical aerodynamic theory, photography in the field, infrared motion capture and multi-camera optical tracking of free flight trajectories in laboratory environments. Our comprehensive approach enables a novel synthesis of datasets and subfields that integrates many aspects of flight from the neurobiology of the compound eye, through the aeromechanical interface with the surrounding fluid, to flight performance under cruising and higher-energy behavioural modes.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Fluid mechanics, Computational fluid dynamics, Flight, Flying and gliding animals, Odonata, Dragonfly


BACKGROUND: Wing size and shape have important aerodynamic implications on flight performance. We explored how wing size was related to wing shape in territorial males of 37 taxa of the damselfly family Calopterygidae. Wing coloration was also included in the analyses because it is sexually and naturally selected and has been shown to be related to wing shape. We studied wing shape using both the non-dimensional radius of the second moment of wing area (RSM) and geometric morphometrics. Lower values of the RSM result in less energetically demanding flight and wider ranges of flight speed. We also re-analyzed previously published data on other damselflies and dragonflies. RESULTS: The RSM showed a hump-shaped relationship with wing size. However, after correcting for phylogeny using independent contrast, this pattern changed to a negative linear relationship. The basal genus of the study family, Hetaerina, was mainly driving that change. The obtained patterns were specific for the study family and differed from other damselflies and dragonflies. The relationship between the RSM and wing shape measured by geometric morphometrics was linear, but relatively small changes along the RSM axis can result in large changes in wing shape. Our results also showed that wing coloration may have some effect on RSM. CONCLUSIONS: We found that RSM showed a complex relationship with size in calopterygid damselflies, probably as a result of other selection pressures besides wing size per se. Wing coloration and specific behavior (e.g. courtship) are potential candidates for explaining the complexity. Univariate measures of wing shape such as RSM are more intuitive but lack the high resolution of other multivariate techniques such as geometric morphometrics. We suggest that the relationship between wing shape and size are taxa-specific and differ among closely-related insect groups.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Change, Moment, Wing, Odonata, Dragonfly, Damselfly, Damselflies


The recently completed Odonata database for California consists of specimen records from the major entomology collections of the state, large Odonata collections outside of the state, previous literature, historical and recent field surveys, and from enthusiast group observations. The database includes 32,025 total records and 19,000 unique records for 106 species of dragonflies and damselflies, with records spanning 1879-2013. Records have been geographically referenced using the point-radius method to assign coordinates and an uncertainty radius to specimen locations. In addition to describing techniques used in data acquisition, georeferencing, and quality control, we present assessments of the temporal, spatial, and taxonomic distribution of records. We use this information to identify biases in the data, and to determine changes in species prevalence, latitudinal ranges, and elevation ranges when comparing records before 1976 and after 1979. The average latitude of where records occurred increased by 78 km over these time periods. While average elevation did not change significantly, the average minimum elevation across species declined by 108 m. Odonata distribution may be generally shifting northwards as temperature warms and to lower minimum elevations in response to increased summer water availability in low-elevation agricultural regions. The unexpected decline in elevation may also be partially the result of bias in recent collections towards centers of human population, which tend to occur at lower elevations. This study emphasizes the need to address temporal, spatial, and taxonomic biases in museum and observational records in order to produce reliable conclusions from such data.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biology, Elevation, Geodesy, Odonata, Dragonfly, Damselfly


Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) present an unparalleled insect model to integrate evolutionary genomics with ecology for the study of insect evolution. Key features of Odonata include their ancient phylogenetic position, extensive phenotypic and ecological diversity, several unique evolutionary innovations, ease of study in the wild and usefulness as bioindicators for freshwater ecosystems worldwide. In this review, we synthesize studies on the evolution, ecology and physiology of odonates, highlighting those areas where the integration of ecology with genomics would yield significant insights into the evolutionary processes that would not be gained easily by working on other animal groups. We argue that the unique features of this group combined with their complex life cycle, flight behaviour, diversity in ecological niches and their sensitivity to anthropogenic change make odonates a promising and fruitful taxon for genomics focused research. Future areas of research that deserve increased attention are also briefly outlined.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Biology, Life, Insect, Ecology, Odonata, Dragonfly


Wing pigmentation is a trait that predicts the outcome of male contests in some damselflies. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that males would have the ability to assess wing pigmentation and adjust investment in a fight according to the costs that the rival may potentially impose. Males of the damselfly Mnesarete pudica exhibit red-coloured wings and complex courtship behaviour and engage in striking male-male fights. In this study, we investigated male assessment behaviour during aerial contests. Theory suggests that the relationship between male resource-holding potential (RHP) and contest duration describes the kind of assessment adopted by males: self-assessment, opponent-only assessment or mutual assessment. A recent theory also suggests that weak and strong males exhibit variations in the assessment strategies adopted. We estimated male RHP through male body size and wing colouration (i.e. pigmentation, wing reflectance spectra and transmission spectra) and studied the relationship between male RHP and contest duration from video-documented behavioural observations of naturally occurring individual contests in the field. The results showed that males with more opaque wings and larger red spots were more likely to win contests. The relationships between RHP and contest durations partly supported the self-assessment and the mutual assessment models. We then experimentally augmented the pigmented area of the wings, in order to evaluate whether strong and weak males assess rivals' RHP through wing pigmentation. Our experimental manipulation, however, clearly demonstrated that strong males assess rivals' wing pigmentation. We finally suggest that there is a variation in the assessment strategy adopted by males.

Concepts: Odonata, Damselfly, Damselflies, Calopterygidae


The potential of DNA barcoding approaches to identify single species and characterize species compositions strongly depends on the marker choice. The prominent “Folmer region”, a 648 basepair fragment at the 5' end of the mitochondrial CO1 gene, has been traditionally applied as a universal DNA barcoding region for metazoans. In order to find a suitable marker for biomonitoring odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), we here explore a new region of the CO1 gene (CO1B) for DNA barcoding in 51 populations of 23 dragonfly and damselfly species. We compare the “Folmer region”, the mitochondrial ND1 gene (NADH dehydrogenase 1) and the new CO1 region with regard to (i) speed and reproducibility of sequence generation, (ii) levels of homoplasy and (iii) numbers of diagnostic characters for discriminating closely related sister taxa and populations. The performances of the gene regions regarding these criteria were quite different. Both, the amplification of CO1B and ND1 was highly reproducible and CO1B showed the highest potential for discriminating sister taxa at different taxonomic levels. In contrast, the amplification of the “Folmer region” using the universal primers was difficult and the third codon positions of this fragment have experienced nucleotide substitution saturation. Most important, exploring this new barcode region of the CO1 gene identified a higher discriminating power between closely related sister taxa. Together with the design of layered barcode approaches adapted to the specific taxonomic “environment”, this new marker will further enhance the discrimination power at the species level.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, RNA, Species, Taxonomic rank, Odonata, Dragonfly, Damselfly


Geographical patterns in body size have been described across a wide range of species, leading to the development of a series of fundamental biological rules. However, shape variables are less well-described despite having substantial consequences for organism performance. Wing aspect ratio (AR) has been proposed as a key shape parameter that determines function in flying animals, with high AR corresponding to longer, thinner wings that promote high manoeuvrability, low speed flight, and low AR corresponding to shorter, broader wings that promote high efficiency long distance flight. From this principle it might be predicted that populations living in cooler areas would exhibit low AR wings to compensate for reduced muscle efficiency at lower temperatures. I test this hypothesis using the riverine damselfly, Calopteryx maculata, sampled from 34 sites across its range margin in North America. Nine hundred and seven male specimens were captured from across the 34 sites (mean = 26.7 ± 2.9 SE per site), dissected and measured to quantify the area and length of all four wings. Geometric morphometrics were employed to investigate geographical variation in wing shape. The majority of variation in wing shape involved changes in wing aspect ratio, confirmed independently by geometric morphometrics and wing measurements. There was a strong negative relationship between wing aspect ratio and the maximum temperature of the warmest month which varies from west-east in North America, creating a positive relationship with longitude. This pattern suggests that higher aspect ratio may be associated with areas in which greater flight efficiency is required: regions of lower temperatures during the flight season. I discuss my findings in light of research of the functional ecology of wing shape across vertebrate and invertebrate taxa.

Concepts: Biology, Aspect ratio, North America, Wing, Aircraft, Odonata, Damselfly, Damselflies


The enemy release hypothesis (ERH) predicts that the spread of (invasive) species will be facilitated by release from their enemies as they occupy new areas. However, the ERH is rarely tested on native (non-invasive, long established) species with expanding or shifting ranges. I tested the ERH for a native damselfly (Enallagma clausum) whose range has recently expanded in western Canada, with respect to its water mite and gregarine parasites. Parasitism levels (prevalence and intensity) were also compared between E. clausum and a closely related species, Enallagma boreale, which has long been established in the study region and whose range is not shifting. A total of 1,150 damselflies were collected at three ‘old’ sites for E. clausum in Saskatchewan, and three ‘new’ sites in Alberta. A little more than a quarter of the damselflies collected were parasitized with, on average, 18 water mite individuals, and 20% were parasitized by, on average, 10 gregarine individuals. I assessed whether the differences between levels of infection (prevalence and intensity) were due to site type or host species. The ERH was not supported: Enallagma clausum has higher or the same levels of parasitism in new sites than old sites. However, E. boreale seems to be benefitting from the recent range expansion of a native, closely related species through ecological release from its parasites because the parasites may be choosing to infest the novel, potentially naïve, host instead of the well-established host.

Concepts: Insect, Parasitism, Ant, Invasive, Range, Commensalism, Odonata, Damselfly


Dragonflies and damselflies are among the most ancient winged insects. Adults belonging to this order are visually oriented and are considered anosmic on the basis of neuroanatomical investigations. As a consequence, the chemical ecology of these predatory insects has long been neglected. Morphological and electrophysiological data demonstrated that dragonfly antennae possess olfactory sensilla. Additionally, a neuroanatomical study revealed the presence of spherical knots in the aglomerular antennal lobe that could allow for the perception of odour. However, the biological role of the antennal olfactory sensilla remains unknown, and no bioassay showing the use of olfaction in Odonata has been performed thus far. Here, we demonstrate through behavioural assays that adults of Ischnura elegans are attracted by olfactory cues emitted by prey; furthermore, using electrophysiological single-cell recordings, we prove that the antennal olfactory sensilla of I. elegans respond to prey odour. Our results clearly demonstrate the involvement of antennal olfactory sensilla in Odonata predation, thus showing, for the first time, the use of olfaction in Odonata biology. This finding indicates that the nervous system of Odonata is able to receive and process olfactory information, suggesting that the simple organisation of the antennal lobe does not prevent the use of olfaction in insects.

Concepts: Nervous system, Brain, Insect, Arthropod, Sense, Olfaction, Odonata, Dragonfly


Due to their unique flight mechanism including a direct flight musculature, Odonata show impressive flight skills. Several publications addressed the details of this flight apparatus like: sclerites, wings, musculature, and flight aerodynamics. However, 3D-analysis of the thorax musculature of adult dragonflies was not studied before and this paper allows for a detailed insight. We therefore, focused on the thorax musculature of adult Anisoptera using micro-computed tomography. Herewith, we present a comparative morphological approach to identify differences within Anisoptera: Aeshnidae, Corduliidae, Gomphidae, and Libellulidae. In total, 54 muscles were identified: 16 prothoracic, 19 mesothoracic, and 19 metathoracic. Recorded differences were for example, the reduction of muscle Idlm4 and an additional muscle IIIdlm1 in Aeshna cyanea, previously described as rudimentary or missing. Muscle Iscm1, which was previously reported missing in all Odonata, was found in all investigated species. The attachment of muscle IIpcm2 in Pantala flavescens is interpreted as a probable adaption to its long-distance migration behaviour. Furthermore, we present a review of functions of the odonatan flight muscles, considering previous publications. The data herein set a basis for functional and biomechanical studies of the flight apparatus and will therefore lay the foundation for a better understanding of the odonatan flight.

Concepts: Insect, Heart, Odonata, Dragonfly, Libellulidae, Aeshnidae, Pantala flavescens, Dragonflies