Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 13, Issue 7–8, pp 721–754 | Cite as

Variable Selection and the Coexistence of Multiple mimetic forms of the Butterfly Heliconius numata

  • Mathieu JoronEmail author
  • Ian R. Wynne
  • Gerardo Lamas
  • James Mallet


Polymorphism in aposematic animals and coexistence of multiple mimicry rings within a habitat are not predicted by classical Müllerian mimicry. The butterfly Heliconius numata Cramer (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae; Heliconiinae) is both polymorphic and aposematic. The polymorphism is due to variation at a single locus (or `supergene') which determines colour patterns involved in Müllerian mimicry. We sampled 11 sites in a small area (approx. 60×30km) of North-eastern Peru for H. numata and its co-mimics in the genus Melinaea and Athyrtis (Ithomiinae), and examined the role of temporal and spatial heterogeneity in the maintenance of polymorphism. Colour-patterns of Melinaea communities, which constitute the likely `mimetic environment' for H. numata, are differentiated on a more local scale than morphs of H. numata, but the latter do show a strong and significant response to local selection for colour-pattern. In contrast, analysis of enzyme polymorphism in H. numata across the region revealed no spatial structure, which is consistent with a high mobility of this species. Differences in spatial variability in the two taxa may have caused H. numata to become polymorphic, while temporal variability, not significant in this study, probably has a lesser effect. The mimetic polymorphism is therefore explained by means of multiple selection-migration clines at a single locus, a similar process to that which explains narrow hybrid zones between geographic races of other Heliconius butterflies.

Heliconius numata Melinaea Ithomiinae aposematism Müllerian mimicry polymorphism spatial heterogeneity frequency-dependent selection population genetic structure 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mathieu Joron
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ian R. Wynne
    • 2
  • Gerardo Lamas
    • 3
  • James Mallet
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut des Sciences de l'EvolutionUniversité de MontpellierIIMontpellierFrance
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Departamento de Entomología, Museo de Historia NaturalUniversidad Nacional Mayor de San MarcosLima-Peru

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