The genetic architecture of adaptive radiation in Heliconius melpomene

  • Blaxter, Mark (Principal Investigator)
  • Jiggins, Christopher (Co-investigator)

Project Details


This project aimed to identify the loci involved in colour polymorphism in Heliconius "postman" butterflies, using a combination of directed sequencing, genetic mapping and candidate gene approaches.

Layman's description

Postman butterflies have beautiful wing patterns that are controlled by a small number of genes. This project aims to identify the genes controlling these wing patterns so as to better understand how evolution shapes natural diverstiy.

Key findings

Homoploid hybrid speciation (HHS) is the establishment of a novel species through introgressive hybridization without a change in chromosome number. We discuss different routes by which this might occur and propose a novel term, 'hybrid trait speciation', which combines the idea that hybridization can generate adaptive novelty with the 'magic trait' model of ecological speciation. Heliconius butterflies contain many putative examples of hybrid colour patterns, but only recently has the HHS hypothesis been tested explicitly in this group. Molecular data has shown evidence for gene flow between many distinct species. Furthermore, the colour pattern of Heliconius heurippa can be recreated in laboratory crosses between Heliconius melpomene and Heliconius cydno and, crucially, plays a role in assortative mating between the three species. Nonetheless, although the genome of H. heurippa shows evidence for hybridization, it is not a mosaic of the two parental species. Instead, ongoing hybridization has likely blurred any signal of the original speciation event. We argue that where hybridization leads to novel adaptive traits that also cause reproductive isolation, it is likely to trigger speciation.
from Jiggins CD, Salazar C, Linares M, Mavarez J (2008) Review. Hybrid trait speciation and Heliconius butterflies. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological sciences 363: 3047-3054.
Effective start/end date2/08/041/08/07


  • BBSRC: £259,040.00


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