The European Map Butterfly Araschnia levana as a Model to Study the Molecular Basis and Evolutionary Ecology of Seasonal Polyphenism

Insects. 2021 Apr 6;12(4):325. doi: 10.3390/insects12040325.


The European map butterfly Araschnia levana is a well-known example of seasonal polyphenism. Spring and summer imagoes exhibit distinct morphological phenotypes. Key environmental factors responsible for the expression of different morphs are day length and temperature. Larval exposure to light for more than 16 h per day entails direct development and results in the adult f. prorsa summer phenotype. Less than 15.5 h per day increasingly promotes diapause and the adult f. levana spring phenotype. The phenotype depends on the timing of the release of 20-hydroxyecdysone in pupae. Release within the first days after pupation potentially inhibits the default "levana-gene-expression-profile" because pre-pupae destined for diapause or subitaneous development have unique transcriptomic programs. Moreover, multiple microRNAs and their targets are differentially regulated during the larval and pupal stages, and candidates for diapause maintenance, duration, and phenotype determination have been identified. However, the complete pathway from photoreception to timekeeping and diapause or subitaneous development remains unclear. Beside the wing polyphenism, the hormonal and epigenetic modifications of the two phenotypes also include differences in biomechanical design and immunocompetence. Here, we discuss research on the physiological and molecular basis of polyphenism in A. levana, including hormonal control, epigenetic regulation, and the effect of ecological parameters on developmental fate.

Keywords: Araschnia levana; diapause; epigenetics; evolutionary ecology; hormones; metamorphosis; microRNAs; phenotypic plasticity; polyphenism.

Publication types

  • Review