Convergence in pigmentation at multiple levels: mutations, genes and function

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Aug 27;365(1552):2439-50. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0104.


Convergence--the independent evolution of the same trait by two or more taxa--has long been of interest to evolutionary biologists, but only recently has the molecular basis of phenotypic convergence been identified. Here, we highlight studies of rapid evolution of cryptic coloration in vertebrates to demonstrate that phenotypic convergence can occur at multiple levels: mutations, genes and gene function. We first show that different genes can be responsible for convergent phenotypes even among closely related populations, for example, in the pale beach mice inhabiting Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts. By contrast, the exact same mutation can create similar phenotypes in distantly related species such as mice and mammoths. Next, we show that different mutations in the same gene need not be functionally equivalent to produce similar phenotypes. For example, separate mutations produce divergent protein function but convergent pale coloration in two lizard species. Similarly, mutations that alter the expression of a gene in different ways can, nevertheless, result in similar phenotypes, as demonstrated by sister species of deer mice. Together these studies underscore the importance of identifying not only the genes, but also the precise mutations and their effects on protein function, that contribute to adaptation and highlight how convergence can occur at different genetic levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Agouti Signaling Protein / genetics
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Florida
  • Lizards
  • Mice
  • Mutation / genetics
  • New Mexico
  • Phenotype*
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Agouti Signaling Protein
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • a protein, mouse