Weird butterfly genetics counter popular theory of evolution – Inverse

Posted: November 1, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Evolution is generally thought of as a linear process: Species split off from one another over time, move to different places, and adapt different traits. But species like those in the Heliconius genus make patterns of evolution more interesting.

We need to take into account in our evolutionary models that we can get gene flow between species, Edelman says.

Heliconius made sense to study because of its hybrid-making tendencies. Its also just a cool really insect. The adult Heliconius eats pollen, which no other butterfly does. And Heliconius is smart, Edelman says. It has a home range, meaning it will go to visit the same flower every day, a habit more commonly associated with mammals.

The findings have potential implications for conservation and preserving pollinator populations. Studies show that species variation is key to protecting those populations in a changing climate.

One good thing about genetic diversity is if you have a really variable and diverse population, when environmental conditions change, you have a better chance of responding to them, Edelman says.

So how does hybridization factor in? Researchers dont all agree on whether its likely to contribute to genetic diversity. But it very well might.

Its at least somewhat likely that youre going to increase your variation rather than decrease it, Edelman says.

Conservation can involve protecting species by keeping out its close relatives, to avoid hybridization or a species takeover, but for species like these butterflies, that strategy may not work as well.

Hybridization is pretty common in nature, Edelman says. In some cases it might be good to bring in other species and increase genetic diversity for conservation purposes.

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Weird butterfly genetics counter popular theory of evolution - Inverse

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