Induction of diapause and seasonal morphs in butterflies and other insects: knowns, unknowns and the challenge of integration

Physiol Entomol. 2013 Jun;38(2):96-104. doi: 10.1111/phen.12014. Epub 2013 May 6.


The 'choice' of whether to enter diapause or to develop directly has profound effects on the life histories of insects, and may thus have cascading consequences such as seasonal morphs and other less obvious forms of seasonal plasticity. Present knowledge of the control of diapause and seasonal morphs at the physiological and molecular levels is briefly reviewed. Examples, mainly derived from personal research (primarily on butterflies), are given as a starting point with the aim of outlining areas of research that are still poorly understood. These include: the role of the direction of change in photoperiod; the role of factors such as temperature and diet in modifying the photoperiodic responses; and the role of sex, parental effects and sex linkage on photoperiodic control. More generally, there is still a limited understanding of how external cues and physiological pathways regulating various traits are interconnected via gene action to form a co-adapted complete phenotype that is adaptive in the wild despite environmental fluctuation and change.

Keywords: Genetics; life history; photoperiod; plasticity; polyphenism; seasonality.