Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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The population genetics of mimetic diversity in Heliconius butterflies

Marcus R Kronforst

Marcus R Kronforst

FAS Center for Systems Biology, Harvard UniversityCambridge, MA 02138, USA

[email protected]

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and
Lawrence E Gilbert

Lawrence E Gilbert

Section of Integrative Biology, University of TexasAustin, TX 78712, USA

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Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2007.1378

    Theory predicts strong stabilizing selection on warning patterns within species and convergent evolution among species in Müllerian mimicry systems yet Heliconius butterflies exhibit extreme wing pattern diversity. One potential explanation for the evolution of this diversity is that genetic drift occasionally allows novel warning patterns to reach the frequency threshold at which they gain protection. This idea is controversial, however, because Heliconius butterflies are unlikely to experience pronounced population subdivision and local genetic drift. To examine the fine-scale population genetic structure of Heliconius butterflies we genotyped 316 individuals from eight Costa Rican Heliconius species with 1428 AFLP markers. Six species exhibited evidence of population subdivision and/or isolation by distance indicating genetic differentiation among populations. Across species, variation in the extent of local genetic drift correlated with the roles different species have played in generating pattern diversity: species that originally generated the diversity of warning patterns exhibited striking population subdivision while species that later radiated onto these patterns had intermediate levels of genetic diversity and less genetic differentiation among populations. These data reveal that Heliconius butterflies possess the coarse population genetic structure necessary for local populations to experience pronounced genetic drift which, in turn, could explain the origin of mimetic diversity.

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