Consequences of evolutionary transitions in changing photic environments

Simon M. Tierney, Markus Friedrich, William F. Humphreys, Therésa M. Jones, Eric J. Warrant, William T. Wcislo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Light represents one of the most reliable environmental cues in the biological world. In this review we focus on the evolutionary consequences to changes in organismal photic environments, with a specific focus on the class Insecta. Particular emphasis is placed on transitional forms that can be used to track the evolution from (1) diurnal to nocturnal (dim-light) or (2) surface to subterranean (aphotic) environments, as well as (3) the ecological encroachment of anthropomorphic light on nocturnal habitats (artificial light at night). We explore the influence of the light environment in an integrated manner, highlighting the connections between phenotypic adaptations (behaviour, morphology, neurology and endocrinology), molecular genetics and their combined influence on organismal fitness. We begin by outlining the current knowledge of insect photic niches and the organismal adaptations and molecular modifications that have evolved for life in those environments. We then outline concepts and guidelines for future research in the fields of natural history, ethology, neurology, morphology and particularly the advantages that high throughput sequencing provides to these aspects of investigation. Finally, we highlight that the power of such integrative science lies in its ability to make phylogenetically robust comparative assessments of evolution, ones that are grounded by empirical evidence derived from a concrete understanding of organismal natural history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-46
Number of pages24
JournalAustral Entomology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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