The genetic basis of ecological differences between two sympatric Heliconius species
The sister species Heliconius cydno and Heliconius melpomene are sympatric across much of Central and northern South America. They differ in mimetic colour pattern, which both warns predators and attracts mates, as well as in habitat and host-plant use: In Panama, H.cydno mimics Heliconius sapho, is normally found in primary forest and oviposits on a range of Passiflora species; H. melpomene, on the other hand, mimics Heliconius erato, occurs in secondary forest and specialises on Passsiflora menispermifolia. Despite these differences the two butterflies are often seen flying together and will hybridise in nature, albeit at very low frequency.
Currently based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, my research will investigate the ecology and genetics of traits that keep these species separate. In particular, my work will focus on the genetic basis of male mate preferences that result in assortative mating. Because genetic architecture can influence both the effects of selection on associated loci and recombination understanding the genetics of such traits will shed light on the speciation of these two butterflies .
Male mate preference is associated with forewing colour.
The probability of courting H. melpomene live females (a) and wing pattern models (b) by backcross hybrids to H. cydno that have the red forewing band (Bb, red squares) and those that do not (bb, white squares). Blacked-out males had their forewing colour pattern obscured in order to prevent self-matching. Dashed lines represent the probabilities of courting live H. melpomene females forH. melpomene (MP) and H. cydno (CP) males (from Merrill et al. 2011 Proc. Bio. Sci.).
- 2011-present. Junior Research Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge
- 2007-2011 PhD, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK (BBSRC funded)
- 2005-2006 MSc in Biology (Integrative Biosciences), University of Oxford
- 2001-2004 BSc (Hons), Biology, University College London