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Adaptive Introgression across Species Boundaries in Heliconius Butterflies

Smithsonian Libraries
It is widely documented that hybridisation occurs between many closely related species, but the importance of introgression in adaptive evolution remains unclear, especially in animals. Here, we have examined the role of introgressive hybridisation in transferring adaptations between mimetic Heliconius butterflies, taking advantage of the recent identification of a gene regulating red wing patterns in this genus. By sequencing regions both linked and unlinked to the red colour locus, we found a region that displays an almost perfect genotype by phenotype association across four species, H. melpomene, H. cydno, H. timareta, and H. heurippa. This particular segment is located 70 kb downstream of the red colour specification gene optix, and coalescent analysis indicates repeated introgression of adaptive alleles from H. melpomene into the H. cydno species clade. Our analytical methods complement recent genome scale data for the same region and suggest adaptive introgression has a crucial role in generating adaptive wing colour diversity in this group of butterflies.

Genetic Evidence for Hybrid Trait Speciation in Heliconius Butterflies

Smithsonian Libraries
Homoploid hybrid speciation is the formation of a new hybrid species without change in chromosome number. So far, there has been a lack of direct molecular evidence for hybridization generating novel traits directly involved in animal speciation. Heliconius butterflies exhibit bright aposematic color patterns that also act as cues in assortative mating. Heliconius heurippa has been proposed as a hybrid species, and its color pattern can be recreated by introgression of the H. m. melpomene red band into the genetic background of the yellow banded H. cydno cordula. This hybrid color pattern is also involved in mate choice and leads to reproductive isolation between H. heurippa and its close relatives. Here, we provide molecular evidence for adaptive introgression by sequencing genes across the Heliconius red band locus and comparing them to unlinked wing patterning genes in H. melpomene, H. cydno, and H. heurippa. 670 SNPs distributed among 29 unlinked coding genes (25,847bp) showed H. heurippa was related to H. c. cordula or the three species were intermixed. In contrast, among 344 SNPs distributed among 13 genes in the red band region (18,629bp), most showed H. heurippa related with H. c. cordula, but a block of around 6,5kb located in the 39 of a putative kinesin gene grouped H. heurippa with H. m. melpomene, supporting the hybrid introgression hypothesis. Genealogical reconstruction showed that this introgression occurred after divergence of the parental species, perhaps around 0.43Mya. Expression of the kinesin gene is spatially restricted to the distal region of the forewing, suggesting a mechanism for pattern regulation. This gene therefore constitutes the first molecular evidence for adaptive introgression during hybrid speciation and is the first clear candidate for a Heliconius wing patterning locus.

Genetic diversity of Phytophthora infestans in the Northern-Andean region

Smithsonian Libraries
BACKGROUND:Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary, the causal agent of potato late blight, is responsible for tremendous crop losses worldwide. Countries in the northern part of the Andes dedicate a large proportion of the highlands to the production of potato, and more recently, solanaceous fruits such as cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) and tree tomato (Solanum betaceum), all of which are hosts of this oomycete. In the Andean region, P. infestans populations have been well-characterized in Ecuador and Peru, but are poorly understood in Colombia and Venezuela. To understand the P. infestans population structure in the Northern part of the Andes, four nuclear regions (ITS, Ras, beta-tubulin and Avr3a) and one mitochondrial (Cox1) region were analyzed in isolates of P. infestans sampled from different hosts in Colombia and Venezuela. RESULTS:Low genetic diversity was found within this sample of P. infestans isolates from crops within several regions of Colombia and Venezuela, revealing the presence of clonal populations of the pathogen in this region. We detected low frequency heterozygotes, and their distribution patterns might be a consequence of a high migration rate among populations with poor effective gene flow. Consistent genetic differentiation exists among isolates from different regions. CONCLUSIONS:The results here suggest that in the Northern Andean region P. infestans is a clonal population with some within-clone variation. P. infestans populations in Venezuela reflect historic isolation that is being reinforced by a recent self-sufficiency of potato seeds. In summary, the P. infestans population is mainly shaped by migration and probably by the appearance of variants of key effectors such as Avr3a.

Two sisters in the same dress: Heliconius cryptic species

Smithsonian Libraries
Background: Sister species divergence and reproductive isolation commonly results from ecological adaptation. In mimetic Heliconius butterflies, shifts in colour pattern contribute to pre- and post-mating reproductive isolation and are commonly correlated with speciation. Closely related mimetic species are therefore not expected, as they should lack several important sources of reproductive isolation. Results: Here we present phenotypic, behavioral and genetic evidence for the coexistence of two sympatric 'cryptic' species near Florencia in the eastern Andes of Colombia that share the same orange rayed colour pattern. These represent H. melpomene malleti and a novel taxon in the H. cydno group, here designated as novel race of Heliconius timareta, Heliconius timareta florencia. No-choice mating experiments show that these sympatric forms have strong assortative mating (approximate to 96%) despite great similarity in colour pattern, implying enhanced divergence in pheromonal signals. Conclusion: We hypothesize that these species might have resulted from recent convergence in colour pattern, perhaps facilitated by hybrid introgression of wing pattern genes.

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.

Working in the Wetlands!

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Most people think of science as occurring in the clean and sterile laboratory but a lot of research still involves getting down and dirty in the field! This video shows scientists hard at work getting to their research site in the wetlands of Bocas del Toro during the Carbonate vs Siliciclastic Depositional Systems: Modern Sedimentary Environments and the Geology of Bocas del Toro, Panama field course which took place from December 9th to 14th, 2011. The group is working in the peat-swamp forrest to try to understand climate change by comparing todays environments to past conditions reconstructed from the fossil record. Participants: Carlos Jaramillo, Camilo Montes, Austin Hendy, Luis Quiroz, Juan C. Silva, Edward Salazar, Cindy Gonzalez, Jessica Moreno, Sandra Restrepo, Daniel Rincon, Freddy NiƱo, Javier Tamara, Jairo Romero and Diego Garcia. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama 2011