Species specificity and intraspecific variation in the chemical profiles of Heliconius butterflies across a large geographic range.
In many animals, mate choice is important for the maintenance of reproductive isolation between species. Traits important for mate choice and behavioral isolation are predicted to be under strong stabilizing selection within species; however, such traits can also exhibit variation at the population level driven by neutral and adaptive evolutionary processes. Here, we describe patterns of divergence among androconial and genital chemical profiles at inter- and intraspecific levels in mimetic Heliconius butterflies. Most variation in chemical bouquets was found between species, but there were also quantitative differences at the population level. We found a strong correlation between interspecific chemical and genetic divergence, but this correlation varied in intraspecific comparisons. We identified "indicator" compounds characteristic of particular species that included compounds already known to elicit a behavioral response, suggesting an approach for identification of candidate compounds for future behavioral studies in novel systems. Overall, the strong signal of species identity suggests a role for these compounds in species recognition, but with additional potentially neutral variation at the population level.
European Research Council (339873)