I believe the fundamental questions of biology to be: why are there so many kinds of living things? Why are they found where they are? Why do they look the way that they do. All three of these questions can be studied using mimetic butterflies. I am interested in how natural selection shapes the diversity of life around us, in particular studying the evolutionary origins of novel traits and how particular genetic architectures shape phenotypic evolution.
My PhD research in conducted in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London, and concerns the evolution and functioning of a wing-pattern mimicry supergene in the African butterfly Papilio dardanus. This species is a polymorphic Batesian mimic, meaning that it avoids predation by mimicking different, chemically-defended species of butterfly and day-flying moth. The mimicry in this species is female-limited and highly polymorphic, with over 12 different female wing patterns; due to the negative frequency-dependent selection experienced by such Batesian mimics, it is advantageous to evolve a polymorphism, with forms in multiple divergent mimicry rings. You can learn more about this fascinating butterfly, and see inside the Natural History Museum collections here.