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Butterfly speciation event recreated

In a matter of months, butterflies sporting the yellow and red wing color pattern of a wild species were created through simple laboratory crosses of two other wild species, researchers report in the June 15, 2006 edition of the journal Nature.

"We recreated the evolutionary steps that may have given rise to Heliconius heurippa, a hybrid butterfly species, in the lab," explains Jesus Mavarez, Molecular Evolution Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Sexual encounters between species resulting in hybrid offspring may be common in nature. However, homoploid hybrid species -- fully sexual hybrid species resulting from crosses between two different parent species -- are still considered to be quite rare. In Ragoletis fruit flies, Swordtail fishes and African Cichlids there is growing evidence for homoploid hybrid speciation. This report of the laboratory creation of a hybrid butterfly nearly identical to a known wild species, and the observation that hybrid individuals don't mate with either parent species, provides the most convincing case to-date for homoploid hybrid speciation in animals.

Co-author Mauricio Linares (University of the Andes, Colombia) had long suspected that H. heurippa, boasting red and yellow wing stripes, could be a hybrid species resulting from a cross between H. cydno and H. melpomene. He set up a long term research project to test this idea. Linares, with his students Camilo Salazar and Christian Salcedo, designed and performed a series of crosses between H. cydno and H. melpomene. The result was a homoploid sexual hybrid very similar to H. heurippa.

"We found that a wing pattern almost identical to that of the hybrid can be obtained in months-- just 3 generations of lab crosses between H. cydno and H. melpomene! Moreover, natural hybrids from San Cristobal, Venezuela, show wing patterns very similar to H. heurippa, further supporting the idea of a hybrid origin for this species," Mavarez explains.

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Contact: Dr. Jesus Mavarez
mavarezj@si.edu
20-278-620-948-842
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
14-Jun-2006


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