Mimicry and the hoverflies
Hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae) vary widely in their mimetic associations, comprising wasp-mimetic, bee-mimetic and non-mimetic species. Social wasp mimics are dominated by 'imperfect mimics' which outnumber their supposed models (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) by large factors. The purpose of this thesis is to determine to what degree Batesian mimicry can account for these paradoxes, and to test alternative hypotheses for the evolution of the yellow-and-black patterns. There is little evidence of an effect of wasp abundance on 'imperfect mimic' abundance across 23 years of trapping data, as predicted if mimics are protected from predators through their resemblance to wasps. The seasonal asynchrony and high abundance of 'imperfect mimics' relative to their models is also notable, as well as the possible significance of wasp predation on hoverflies. Predictions concerning the function of the colour patterns of 'imperfect mimics' are tested using the association between similarity to the model and flight agility (indirectly measured assuming a trade-off between reproductive potential and flight agility). There is no strong indication that mimetic protection is the primary function of the colour patterns, but the evidence concurs with an aposematic function, signalling to predators the unprofitability of attempting capture. These conclusions are tentatively supported by direct measures of flight agility, though the small differences among species are difficult to pick up. The data on reproductive morphology of hoverflies show considerable variation across species, especially in males. The existence of giant testes in some species suggests that methods of dealing with sperm competition in hoverflies are diverse and deserve further study. The high ratio of 'imperfect mimics' to both models and good wasp mimics is also partly explained by habitat disturbance; undisturbed habitats show significantly less 'imperfect mimics' as a proportion of the hoverfly population. Current relative abundance in the UK may therefore be very different to when the colour patterns evolved.