Charlat worked with Gregory Hurst, a reader in evolutionary genetics at University College London and senior author of the paper. Descriptions of all-female broods of H. bolina date back to the 1920s, but it wasn't until 2002 that Hurst and colleagues first identified Wolbachia bacteria as the culprit behind the distorted sex ratio.
"We usually think of natural selection as acting slowly, over hundreds or thousands of years," said Hurst. "But the example in this study happened in a blink of the eye, in terms of evolutionary time, and is a remarkable thing to get to observe."
The researchers noted that bacteria that selectively kill male offspring are found among a range of arthropods, so what was seen in this study may not be unusual, despite the fact that it has never before been described in the scientific literature. Previous research has revealed some of the extraordinary ways in which insects adapt to the pressures inherent when nearly all its members are of one gender.
Notably, Charlat and Hurst reported in an earlier study that, thanks to Wolbachia, when males of H. bolina, commonly known as the Blue Moon or Great Eggfly butterfly, become a rare commodity, the number of mating sessions for both males and females jumps, possibly as an attempt to sustain the population despite the odds.
Charlat added that the relationship between Wolbachia and the Blue Moon butterfly illustrates the so-called Red Queen Principle, an evolutionary term named after a scene in Lewis Carroll's famous book, "Through the Looking-Glass," in which the characters Alice and the Red Queen run faster and faster at the top of a hill, only to find that they remain in the same place.
"In essence, organisms must evolve or change to stay in the same place, whether it's a predator-prey
Contact: Sarah Yang
University of California - Berkeley