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Wildflower colors tell butterflies how to do their jobs
Date:1/9/2011

DURHAM, N.C. The recipe for making one species into two requires time and some kind of separation, like being on different islands or something else that discourages gene flow between the two budding species.

In the case of common Texas wildflowers that share meadows and roadside ditches, color-coding apparently does the trick.

Duke University graduate student Robin Hopkins has found the first evidence of a specific genetic change that helps two closely related wildflowers avoid creating costly hybrids. It results in one of the normally light blue flowers being tagged with a reddish color to appear less appetizing to the pollinating butterflies which prefer blue.

"There are big questions about evolution that are addressed by flower color," said Hopkins, who successfully defended her doctoral dissertation just weeks before seeing the same work appear in the prestigious journal Nature.

What Hopkins found, with her thesis adviser, Duke biology professor Mark Rausher, is the first clear genetic evidence for something called reinforcement in plants. Reinforcement keeps two similar proto-species moving apart by discouraging hybrid matings. Flower color had been expected to aid reinforcement, but the genes had not been found.

In animals or insects, reinforcement might be accomplished by a small difference in scent, plumage or mating rituals. But plants don't dance or choose their mates. So they apparently exert some choice by using color to discourage the butterflies from mingling their pollen, Hopkins said.

Where Phlox drummondii lives by itself, it has a periwinkle blue blossom. But where its range overlaps with Phlox cuspidata, which is also light blue, drummondii flowers appear darker and more red. Some individual butterflies prefer light blue blossoms and will go from blue to blue, avoiding the dark reds. Other individual butterflies prefer the reds and will stick with those. This
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Contact: Karl Leif Bates
karl.bates@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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