Accommodating natural and sexual selection in butterfly wing pattern evolution

Jeffrey C. Oliver, Kendra A. Robertson, Antónia Monteiro


Visual patterns in animals may serve different functions, such as attracting mates and deceiving predators. If a signal is used for multiple functions, the opportunity arises for conflict among the different functions, preventing optimization for any one visual signal. Here we investigate the hypothesis that spatial separation of different visual signal functions has occurred in Bicyclus butterflies. Using phylogenetic reconstructions of character evolution and comparisons of evolutionary rates, we found dorsal surface characters to evolve at higher rates than ventral characters. Dorsal characters also displayed sex-based differences in evolutionary rates more often than did ventral characters. Thus, dorsal characters corresponded to our predictions of mate signalling while ventral characters appear to play an important role in predator avoidance. Forewing characters also fit a model of mate signalling, and displayed higher rates of evolution than hindwing characters. Our results, as well as the behavioural and developmental data from previous studies of Bicyclus species, support the hypothesis that spatial separation of visual signal functions has occurred in Bicyclus butterflies. This study is the first to demonstrate, in a phylogenetic framework, that spatial separation of signals used for mate signalling and those used for predator avoidance is a viable strategy to accommodate multiple signal functions. This signalling strategy has important ramifications on the developmental evolution of wing pattern elements and diversification of butterfly species.



    • Received February 2, 2009.
    • Accepted March 9, 2009.
View Full Text