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Wing patterning gene redefines the mimetic history of Heliconius butterflies

Smithsonian Libraries
The mimetic butterflies Heliconius erato and Heliconius melpomene have undergone parallel radiations to form a near-identical patchwork of over 20 different wing-pattern races across the Neotropics. Previous molecular phylogenetic work on these radiations has suggested that similar but geographically disjunct color patterns arose multiple times independently in each species. The neutral markers used in these studies, however, can move freely across color pattern boundaries, and therefore might not represent the history of the adaptive traits as accurately as markers linked to color pattern genes. To assess the evolutionary histories across different loci, we compared relationships among races within H. erato and within H. melpomene using a series of unlinked genes, genes linked to color pattern loci, and optix, a gene recently shown to control red color-pattern variation. We found that although unlinked genes partition populations by geographic region, optix had a different history, structuring lineages by red color patterns and supporting a single origin of red-rayed patterns within each species. Genes closely linked (80–250 kb) to optix exhibited only weak associations with color pattern. This study empirically demonstrates the necessity of examining phenotype-determining genomic regions to understand the history of adaptive change in rapidly radiating lineages. With these refined relationships, we resolve a long-standing debate about the origins of the races within each species, supporting the hypothesis that the red-rayed Amazonian pattern evolved recently and expanded, causing disjunctions of more ancestral patterns.

Genomic Hotspots for Adaptation: The Population Genetics of Mullerian Mimicry in the Heliconius melpomene Clade

Smithsonian Libraries
Wing patterning in Heliconius butterflies is a longstanding example of both Mullerian mimicry and phenotypic radiation under strong natural selection. The loci controlling such patterns are "hotspots" for adaptive evolution with great allelic diversity across different species in the genus. We characterise nucleotide variation, genotype-by-phenotype associations, linkage disequilibrium, and candidate gene expression at two loci and across multiple hybrid zones in Heliconius melpomene and relatives. Alleles at HmB control the presence or absence of the red forewing band, while alleles at HmYb control the yellow hindwing bar. Across HmYb two regions, separated by similar to 100 kb, show significant genotype-by-phenotype associations that are replicated across independent hybrid zones. In contrast, at HmB a single peak of association indicates the likely position of functional sites at three genes, encoding a kinesin, a G-protein coupled receptor, and an mRNA splicing factor. At both HmYb and HmB there is evidence for enhanced linkage disequilibrium (LD) between associated sites separated by up to 14 kb, suggesting that multiple sites are under selection. However, there was no evidence for reduced variation or deviations from neutrality that might indicate a recent selective sweep, consistent with these alleles being relatively old. Of the three genes showing an association with the HmB locus, the kinesin shows differences in wing disc expression between races that are replicated in the co-mimic, Heliconius erato, providing striking evidence for parallel changes in gene expression between Mullerian co-mimics. Wing patterning loci in Heliconius melpomene therefore show a haplotype structure maintained by selection, but no evidence for a recent selective sweep. The complex genetic pattern contrasts with the simple genetic basis of many adaptive traits studied previously, but may provide a better model for most adaptation in natural populations that has arisen over millions rather than tens of years.

Butterfly genome reveals promiscuous exchange of mimicry adaptations among species

Smithsonian Libraries
The evolutionary importance of hybridization and introgression has long been debated(1). Hybrids are usually rare and unfit, but even infrequent hybridization can aid adaptation by transferring beneficial traits between species. Here we use genomic tools to investigate introgression in Heliconius, a rapidly radiating genus of neotropical butterflies widely used in studies of ecology, behaviour, mimicry and speciation(2-5). We sequenced the genome of Heliconius melpomene and compared it with other taxa to investigate chromosomal evolution in Lepidoptera and gene flow among multiple Heliconius species and races. Among 12,669 predicted genes, biologically important expansions of families of chemosensory and Hox genes are particularly noteworthy. Chromosomal organization has remained broadly conserved since the Cretaceous period, when butterflies split from the Bombyx (silkmoth) lineage. Using genomic resequencing, we show hybrid exchange of genes between three co-mimics, Heliconius melpomene, Heliconius timareta and Heliconius elevatus, especially at two genomic regions that control mimicry pattern. We infer that closely related Heliconius species exchange protective colour-pattern genes promiscuously, implying that hybridization has an important role in adaptive radiation.