The evolution of flightlessness: Is history important?

  title={The evolution of flightlessness: Is history important?},
  author={Derek A. Roff},
  journal={Evolutionary Ecology},
  • D. Roff
  • Published 1 November 1994
  • Biology
  • Evolutionary Ecology
SummaryThough most birds and insects are capable of flight (‘volant’) some species are flightless. In this paper I test the hypothesis that phylogenetic constraints have played a role in the evolution of flightlessness. If speciation occurred after the evolutionary transition to flightlessness, inferences concerning the importance of particular aspects of the environment on the probability of the evolution of flightlessness may be statistically spurious because of the inflation of the sample… 

The role of wing length in the evolution of avian flightlessness

It is found that for all eight avian families, the flighted species have shorter wing lengths relative to body mass than their sister families, and it is suggested that these increased energetic costs of flying predispose theseAvian families to evolve flightless species.

Gradual evolution towards flightlessness in steamer ducks *

Flightlessness in birds is the product of changes in suites of characters—including increased body size and reduced anterior limbs—that have evolved repeatedly and independently under similar

Convergent morphological responses to loss of flight in rails (Aves: Rallidae)

Investigating morphological consequences of flightlessness in a bird family where the condition has evolved repeatedly finds that morphological variation was greater among flightless rails than flighted ones, suggesting that relaxation of physiological demands during the transition to flightlessness frees morphological traits to evolve in response to more varied ecological opportunities.

Anthropogenic extinctions conceal widespread evolution of flightlessness in birds

The analysis of preanthropogenic avian diversity shows how anthropogenic effects can conceal the frequency of major evolutionary transitions in life forms and highlights the fact that macroevolutionary studies with only small amounts of missing data can still be highly biased.

Loss of flight promotes beetle diversification

It is shown that loss of flight accelerates allopatric speciation using carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) and that the speciation rate with the flightless state is twice that with theFlight-capable state.

A second view on the evolution of flight in stick and leaf insects (Phasmatodea)

The evolutionary history of wings in Phasmatodea is explored and it is demonstrated that the disjunct distribution of ocelli substantiates the hypothesis on their regain and thus on trait reacquisition in general.

A genetic signature of the evolution of loss of flight in the Galapagos cormorant

A comparative and predictive genomics approach is developed that uses the genome sequences of P. harrisi and its flighted relatives to find candidate genetic variants that likely contributed to the evolution of loss of flight.

Genetic tests of rapid parallel speciation of flightless birds from an extant volant ancestor

The present study provides the first test of this model of speciation using genetic data sampled throughout the range of a putative ancestral species, and indicates that G. philippensis is polyphyletic, but is not the ancestor of most of its flightless congeners, as previously thought.

Multiple losses of flight and recent speciation in steamer ducks

It is illustrated that the flying and flightless steamer ducks on the Falkland Islands are genetically indistinguishable, in contrast to their traditional classification as separate species.

Macroscale evolutionary patterns of flight muscle dimorphism in the carrion beetle Necrophila japonica

Results indicate that geographic expansion occurred recently while flight muscle dimorphisms have been maintained, that flight-capable individuals have colonized cooler (peripheral) habitats, and that flightlessness has increased in long-persisting populations as suggested by high genetic diversity.



The evolution of flightlessness in insects

  • D. Roff
  • Environmental Science, Biology
  • 1990
It is hypothesized that larval migration by ballooning, the large—scale spatiotemporal stability of woodlands, and the small—scale unpredictability of spring bud burst are primary factors favoring the evolution of flightlessness in these Lepidoptera.

Flightlessness in insects.

  • M. Edmunds
  • Education
    Trends in ecology & evolution
  • 1992

Wing Dimorphisms and the Evolution of Migratory Polymorphisms among the Insecta

The study of the evolution of wing dimorphism is important not only in its own right but also as a model of how migratory propensity evolves in monomorphically winged species.


Proportions in the wing skeleton, intraspecific allometry, and limited data on growth indicate that the relatively short wing bones and remiges of flightless Tachyeres are produced developmentally by a delay in the growth of wing components, and that this heterochrony may underlie, in part, skeletal sexual dimorphism.


  • B. Livezey
  • Biology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 1989
Relative wing lengths and conformation of sterna in Rollandia microptera and Podiceps taczanowskii indicate that morphological changes associated with flightlessness are paedomorphic; intraspecific allometry in rollandia indicates that the underlying ontogenetic change may involve a delay in the start of pectoral‐alar development (postdisplacement).

Evolution of the rails of the South Atlantic islands (Aves: Rallidae)

  • S. Olson
  • Environmental Science, Biology
  • 1973
Flightlessness in rails is shown to be a neotenic condition that involves only the control of relative growth of body parts, is evolved at a rapid rate, and therefore has limited taxonomic significance.

Understanding the Evolution of Insect Life-Cycles: The Role of Genetic Analysis

  • D. Roff
  • Biology, Environmental Science
  • 1990
Variation in phenotype within a population has caused considerable taxonomic confusion in many insect species, for example, populations may comprise two distinct morphs, winged and wingless, the two morphs also frequently showing other substantial morphological differences.

Morphometrics of Flightlessness in the Alcidae

Analysis of skeletal measurements revealed that the genera of flightless Alcidae were characterized by relatively short distal wing elements and dorsoventral flattening of all major wing elements, in combination with relatively large core and pelvic dimensions, which were most pronounced in Mancalla.

Life-history traits of forest-inhabiting flightless Lepidoptera

Some species of forest-inhabiting Lepidoptera possess a set of life-history traits including flightless females, larval dispersal by ballooning, polyphagy, univoltinism and overwintering larvae or eggs which contribute to the ability of these species to reach high population density during years favorable to larval growth and survival.

Phylogeny and Historical Biogeography of Steamer-Ducks (Anatidae: Tachyeres)

A morphologically based phylogenetic analysis of the relationships of Tachyeres to other waterfowl and the role of glaciations as vicariance events in the marine littoral of southernmost South America is reviewed.