Genetic evidence for hybrid trait speciation in Heliconius butterflies Academic Article


  • PLoS Genetics


  • 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.

publication date

  • 2010-4-1


  • 6


  • Animals
  • Butterflies
  • Chromosomes
  • Color
  • Cues
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes
  • Genetic Background
  • Heliconius
  • Heliconius melpomene
  • Kinesin
  • Melpomene
  • Reproductive Isolation
  • Single Nucleotide Polymorphism
  • animal
  • animals
  • assortative mating
  • butterflies
  • butterfly
  • chromosome
  • chromosome number
  • color
  • divergence
  • gene
  • genes
  • genetic background
  • hybrid species
  • hybridization
  • introgression
  • kinesin
  • loci
  • mate choice
  • mating behavior
  • regulation
  • reproductive isolation

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1553-7390