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Evolutionary Biology
Event details of IBED seminar by Prof. Richard Merrill
22 June 2023
Science Park 904


Prof. Richard Merrill (Emmy Noether Group, LMU Munich, Germany)


In the eye of the beholder? Evolutionary genetics of visual adaptation and preferences in tropical butterflies. 

Visual attraction is an important driver of mate choice and sexual selection, but little is known about the underlying genes, or how they evolve. Hybridization has been suggested to play a role in behavioural evolution, but a direct link between specific loci and behaviours has not previously been made. Here, we show that male preferences for red patterns segregate with a genomic region of increased admixture between red-preferring Heliconius species, indicating that introgression of preference alleles has contributed to the parallel evolution of visually-guided behaviours in these butterflies. Differences in neural expression of regucalcin, which coincides with this introgressed region, is associated with visual preference variation, and disruption of regucalcin with CRISPR/Cas9 alters courtship behaviour towards red females, proving a direct link between a gene and mate attraction behaviour. The visual preferences we observe are independent of other visual adaptations, and the  gene we have identified  seems more likely to alter visual processing or integration, rather than detection at photoreceptors. This is consistent with permitting changes in mate preference without altering perception of the animal’s wider environment. Our study paves the way for understanding how variation in visually-guided behaviours can be encoded at the genetic level, and can contribute to both adaptation and speciation.

Science Park 904

Room G2.10
Science Park 904
1098 XH Amsterdam