The Genetics of Stay at Home Vs “Exploratory” Butterflies

Science Daily has a fascinating bit on butterflies called Butterflies That Explore and Colonize New Habitats Are Genetically Different from Cautious Cousins.This extended quote from the press release is fascinating:

In the new study, another gene variant also stood out as an important indicator of butterfly flight ability. New-population females were more often missing a small part of the succinate dehydrogenase gene (Sdhd) and this small deletion was associated with the ability to maintain flight for a greater duration. “The Pgi gene variant seems to be associated with sprinting, and the Sdhd gene variant appears to be associated with endurance,” Marden said. “It’s easy to see why these traits and their associated genes would be found at higher frequencies in new populations. Better flight ability allows certain butterflies to be able to reach and settle new habitat patches.”

Wheat, the paper’s lead author, said, “We already knew about Pgi from previous work in other butterflies and what has been done so far in the Glanville fritillary butterfly. Now with Sdhd we have two genes in the same carbohydrate-metabolism pathway containing alleles of major effect for ecologically important traits.” Marden also commented on the differences in gene expression involving protein dynamics. “Butterflies obtain protein only during larval feeding, whereas the adults rely on nectar, from which they obtain only carbohydrate,” he said. “The timing and level of expenditure of stored proteins is one way to manipulate life history in a species where no more protein will be available to the adult.”

The paper is being published in Molecular Ecology, if someone has access and can send me a copy I would appreciate it. The paper can be found here:

Christopher W. Wheat, Howard W. Fescemyer, J. Kvist, Eva Tas, J. Cristobal Vera, Mikko J. Frilander, Ilkka Hanski, James H. Marden. Functional genomics of life history variation in a butterfly metapopulation. Molecular Ecology, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05062.x

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