The Genomic Basis of Mate Choice Revealed!

H. cydno and H. Melpomene mating

Richard Merrill’s paper based on research at the Heliconius Insectaries has identified for the first time three quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that have a significant impact on male H. melpomene and H. cydno mating preferences. A particularly significant QTL near a gene known to affect the red pattern could mean that males who prefer red wing markings do not approach females of the other species that lack these markings. The paper, “Genetic dissection of assortative mating behavior,” by was published Feb. 7 in PLOS Biology.

The researchers used large pedigrees to localize regions of the genome responsible for differences in male approach and courtship behavior. The three QTL’s identified can be considered large-effect “speciation genes” because they lead to strong reproductive isolation – taken together, they account for about 60% of the difference in male preference behavior between the parental species. This simple genetic architecture, which couples behavioral and ecological aspects of reproductive isolation, facilitates the evolution and maintenance of new species.

An excellent write up on the work published in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Photo taken by Luca Livraghi.