, Volume 154, Issue 4, pp 715-724
Date: 24 Oct 2007

Dynamics of colour polymorphism in a changing environment: fire melanism and then what?

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Studies of whether disturbance events are associated with the changing genetic compositions of natural populations may provide insights into the importance of local selection events in maintaining diversity, and might inform plans for the conservation and protection of that diversity. We examined the dynamics of a colour pattern polymorphism in a natural population of pygmy grasshoppers Tetrix subulata (Orthoptera: Tetrigidae) inhabiting a previously burnt clear-cut area. Data on morph frequencies for wild-caught and captive-reared individuals indicated that the initial dominance of black phenotypes following the fire event was followed by an increased diversity of the polymorphism. This was manifested as the appearance of a novel morph, a decreased incidence of the black morph, and a more even distribution of individuals across alternative morphs following the recurrence of vegetation. We also found that the colour patterns of captive-reared individuals resembled those of their parents and that the degree of within-clutch diversity increased between generations. Our comparisons of morph frequencies across generations and between environments within generations point to a genetic determination of colour pattern, and indicate that the polymorphism is influenced more strongly by selection than by plasticity or migration.

Communicated by Matthias Schaefer.