New publication! Genomics of altitude-associated wing shape in two tropical butterflies

29 July 2021

In a new paper out in Molecular Ecology, we investigate the genetic basis of wing shape variation in two tropical butterfly species, Heliconius erato and Heliconius melpomene. We have previously shown that, both within and between species, butterflies from higher altitude in the Andes tend to have rounder wings. In the current paper we show that this difference within these two species is genetically controlled and we identify some of the genes that might be responsible.

A) Each point represents an individual butterfly collected in the wild. Triangles represent females that were used for common-garden rearing to establish heritability, circles are individuals that were used for whole-genome sequencing to identify the genes involved. B) To establish that the trait was heritable (genetically controlled) we took individuals from different elevations and reared them under common conditions at Ikiam University. C) The individuals used for whole-genome sequencing were sampled from across an elevational transect. Figure produced by Gabriela Montejo-Kovacevich

These results tell us that there are genetic differences between populations of butterflies found at different elevations in the Andes, and that some of these differences are likely to be important for adapting them to the different environmental challenges they face at different heights in the mountains.

This is part of our NERC funded project on adaptation to altitude in tropical insects. It was led by Gaberiela Montejo-Kovacevich as part of her PhD. Much of the rearing work in Ecuador was led by Postdoctoral research associate Patricio Salazar working with our partners at Ikiam University.