SciCombinator

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Concept: Peppered moth evolution

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Camouflage, and in particular background-matching, is one of the most common anti-predator strategies observed in nature. Animals can improve their match to the colour/pattern of their surroundings through background selection, and/or by plastic colour change. Colour change can occur rapidly (a few seconds), or it may be slow, taking hours to days. Many studies have explored the cues and mechanisms behind rapid colour change, but there is a considerable lack of information about slow colour change in the context of predation: the cues that initiate it, and the range of phenotypes that are produced. Here we show that peppered moth (Biston betularia) larvae respond to colour and luminance of the twigs they rest on, and exhibit a continuous reaction norm of phenotypes. When presented with a heterogeneous environment of mixed twig colours, individual larvae specialise crypsis towards one colour rather than developing an intermediate colour. Flexible colour change in this species has likely evolved in association with wind dispersal and polyphagy, which result in caterpillars settling and feeding in a diverse range of visual environments. This is the first example of visually induced slow colour change in Lepidoptera that has been objectively quantified and measured from the visual perspective of natural predators.

Concepts: Natural selection, Insect, Crypsis, Ecology, Lepidoptera, Peppered moth, Peppered moth evolution, Moth

31

From the outset multiple causes have been suggested for changes in melanic gene frequency in the peppered moth Biston betularia and other industrial melanic moths. These have included higher intrinsic fitness of melanic forms and selective predation for camouflage. The possible existence and origin of heterozygote advantage has been debated. From the 1950s, as a result of experimental evidence, selective predation became the favoured explanation and is undoubtedly the major factor driving the frequency change. However, modelling and monitoring of declining melanic frequencies since the 1970s indicate either that migration rates are much higher than existing direct estimates suggested or else, or in addition, non-visual selection has a role. Recent molecular work on genetics has revealed that the melanic (carbonaria) allele had a single origin in Britain, and that the locus is orthologous to a major wing patterning locus in Heliconius butterflies. New methods of analysis should supply further information on the melanic system and on migration that will complete our understanding of this important example of rapid evolution.Heredity advance online publication, 5 December 2012; doi:10.1038/hdy.2012.92.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Peppered moth, Peppered moth evolution, Moth, Melanism

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Discovering the mutational events that fuel adaptation to environmental change remains an important challenge for evolutionary biology. The classroom example of a visible evolutionary response is industrial melanism in the peppered moth (Biston betularia): the replacement, during the Industrial Revolution, of the common pale typica form by a previously unknown black (carbonaria) form, driven by the interaction between bird predation and coal pollution. The carbonaria locus has been coarsely localized to a 200-kilobase region, but the specific identity and nature of the sequence difference controlling the carbonaria-typica polymorphism, and the gene it influences, are unknown. Here we show that the mutation event giving rise to industrial melanism in Britain was the insertion of a large, tandemly repeated, transposable element into the first intron of the gene cortex. Statistical inference based on the distribution of recombined carbonaria haplotypes indicates that this transposition event occurred around 1819, consistent with the historical record. We have begun to dissect the mode of action of the carbonaria transposable element by showing that it increases the abundance of a cortex transcript, the protein product of which plays an important role in cell-cycle regulation, during early wing disc development. Our findings fill a substantial knowledge gap in the iconic example of microevolutionary change, adding a further layer of insight into the mechanism of adaptation in response to natural selection. The discovery that the mutation itself is a transposable element will stimulate further debate about the importance of ‘jumping genes’ as a source of major phenotypic novelty.

Concepts: Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, RNA, Peppered moth, Peppered moth evolution, Moth, Melanism

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Although classically associated with urban environments in invertebrates, melanism in terrestrial snakes is more often linked to occupancy of cool climates [1-3]. Thermal advantages to melanism do not apply in aquatic snakes [4], but although turtle-headed seasnakes (Emydocephalus annulatus) are banded or blotched across a wide geographic range [5], most individuals are melanic in polluted inshore bays of the Pacific island of New Caledonia [4]. Why has melanism evolved in these urban sites? Because trace elements bind to melanin, darker feathers enhance a bird’s ability to shed pollutants [6]. Reptiles in polluted habitats also accumulate trace elements, which are expelled when the skin is sloughed [7-11]. Might melanism enable snakes to rid themselves of harmful pollutants? We measured trace elements in sloughed skins of seasnakes from urban-industrial versus other areas and in dark versus light skin. For the latter comparison, we used data from laticaudine seasnakes (sea kraits Laticauda spp.), in which each individual is dark and light banded, facilitating comparisons between dark and light skin. As predicted, concentrations of trace elements were higher in snakes from urban-industrial areas and higher in darker than paler skin (even within the same slough). The rate of excretion of trace elements is further enhanced by higher frequencies of sloughing in melanic than banded individuals, even within the same population, because of higher rates of algal settlement on darker skin. Thus, melanism of seasnakes in polluted sites may facilitate excretion of trace elements via sloughing. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Skin, Melanin, Peppered moth evolution, Melanism, Albinism, Snake, Elapidae, Leucism

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We have constructed a linkage map for the peppered moth (Biston betularia), the classical ecological genetics model of industrial melanism, aimed both at localizing the network of loci controlling melanism and making inferences about chromosome dynamics. The linkage map, which is based primarily on amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) and genes, consists of 31 linkage groups (LGs; consistent with the karyotype). Comparison with the evolutionarily distant Bombyx mori suggests that the gene content of chromosomes is highly conserved. Gene order is conserved on the autosomes, but noticeably less so on the Z chromosome, as confirmed by physical mapping using bacterial artificial chromosome fluorescence in situ hybridization (BAC-FISH). Synteny mapping identified three pairs of B. betularia LGs (11/29, 23/30 and 24/31) as being orthologous to three B. mori chromosomes (11, 23 and 24, respectively). A similar finding in an outgroup moth (Plutella xylostella) indicates that the B. mori karyotype (n=28) is a phylogenetically derived state resulting from three chromosome fusions. As with other Lepidoptera, the B. betularia W chromosome consists largely of repetitive sequence, but exceptionally we found a W homolog of a Z-linked gene (laminin A), possibly resulting from ectopic recombination between the sex chromosomes. The B. betularia linkage map, featuring the network of known melanization genes, serves as a resource for melanism research in Lepidoptera. Moreover, its close resemblance to the ancestral lepidopteran karyotype (n=31) makes it a useful reference point for reconstructing chromosome dynamic events and ancestral genome architectures. Our study highlights the unusual evolutionary stability of lepidopteran autosomes; in contrast, higher rates of intrachromosomal rearrangements support a special role of the Z chromosome in adaptive evolution and speciation.Heredity advance online publication, 5 December 2012; doi:10.1038/hdy.2012.84.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Chromosome, Lepidoptera, Peppered moth, Peppered moth evolution, Moth