Rapid colour shift by reproductive character displacement in Cupido butterflies

Mol Ecol. 2020 Dec;29(24):4942-4955. doi: 10.1111/mec.15682. Epub 2020 Nov 6.


Reproductive character displacement occurs when competition for successful breeding imposes a divergent selection on the interacting species, causing a divergence of reproductive traits. Here, we show that a disputed butterfly taxon is actually a case of male wing colour shift, apparently produced by reproductive character displacement. Using double digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing and mitochondrial DNA sequencing we studied four butterfly taxa of the subgenus Cupido (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae): Cupido minimus and the taxon carswelli, both characterized by brown males and females, plus C. lorquinii and C. osiris, both with blue males and brown females. Unexpectedly, taxa carswelli and C. lorquinii were close to indistinguishable based on our genomic and mitochondrial data, despite displaying strikingly different male coloration. In addition, we report and analysed a brown male within the C. lorquinii range, which demonstrates that the brown morph occurs at very low frequency in C. lorquinii. Such evidence strongly suggests that carswelli is conspecific with C. lorquinii and represents populations with a fixed male brown colour morph. Considering that these brown populations occur in sympatry with or very close to the blue C. osiris, and that the blue C. lorquinii populations never do, we propose that the taxon carswelli could have lost the blue colour due to reproductive character displacement with C. osiris. Since male colour is important for conspecific recognition during courtship, we hypothesize that the observed colour shift may eventually trigger incipient speciation between blue and brown populations. Male colour seems to be an evolutionarily labile character in the Polyommatinae, and the mechanism described here might be at work in the wide diversification of this subfamily of butterflies.

Keywords: RAD sequencing; lepidoptera; reinforcement; reproductive character displacement; speciation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies* / genetics
  • Color
  • Female
  • Male
  • Reproduction
  • Sympatry
  • Wings, Animal

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.wm37pvmhm