Alternative life-history strategies (ALHS) are genetic polymorphisms generating phenotypes differing in life histories that generally arise due to metabolic resource allocation tradeoffs. Although ALHS are often be limited to a single sex or populations of a species, they can, in rare cases, be found among several species across a genus. In the butterfly genus Colias, at least a third of the species have a female limited ALHS called Alba. While many females develop brightly pigmented wings, Alba females reallocate nitrogen resources used in pigment synthesis to reproductive development, producing white-winged, more fecund females. Whether this ALHS evolved once or many times, and whether it has moved among species via introgression or been maintained via long-term balancing selection, has not been established. Answering these questions presents an opportunity to investigate the genetic basis and evolutionary forces acting upon ALHS, which have rarely been studied at a genus level. Here we identify the genetic locus of Alba in a second Colias species, allowing us to compare this with previous results in a larger phylogenetic context. Our findings suggest Alba has a singular origin and has been maintained in Colias through a combination of balancing selection and introgression for nearly one million years and at least as many generations. Finally, using CRISPR/Cas9 deletions in the cis-regulatory region of the Alba allele, we demonstrate that the Alba allele is a modular enhancer for the BarH1 gene and is necessary for the induction of the ALHS, which potentially facilitates its long-term persistence in the genus.
Tunstrom, K., Woronik, A., Hanly, J. J., Rastas, P., Chichvarkhin, A., Warren, A. D., Kawahara, A., ... & Wheat, C. W. (2021). A complex interplay between balancing selection and introgression maintains a genus-wide alternative life-history strategy. bioRxiv. doi: 10.1101/2021.05.20.445023
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