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Evolution on the wing

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The wing patterns of butterflies provide wonderful opportunities for establishing an integrative view of morphological diversification. The development of scale-covered wings, their structural and pigment complexity and an elaborate patterning system are key evolutionary innovations of the Lepidoptera. Wing patterns are fantastically diverse, both within and between species and, in a number of taxa, shown to be under strong natural and sexual selection. Moreover, Lepidoptera wing patterns are experimentally tractable. Developing wings are large, accessible through development, and the shape of the developing wing maps directly onto the adult wing. As a result, there is perhaps no better animal system where the transitions from genes, through developmental pathways, to phenotype, function, and fitness can be so clearly illuminated.

In this talk, I will highlight some recent work in neotropical Heliconius butterflies, which is getting directly at the mechanisms of phenotypic change. This research leverages the stunning natural diversity within the group and genomic and functional genomic technologies to understand how morphological variation is created through development and modified by natural selection within the context of an extraordinary adaptive radiation.

This talk is part of the Behaviour, Ecology & Evolution Seminar Series series.

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