Does sexual conflict contribute to the evolution of novel warning patterns?

Alexander E Hausmann, Marília Freire, Sara A Alfthan, Chi-Yun Kuo, Mauricio Linares, Owen McMillan, Carolina Pardo-Diaz, Camilo Salazar, Richard M Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Why warning patterns are so diverse is an enduring evolutionary puzzle. Because predators associate particular patterns with unpleasant experiences, an individual's predation risk should decrease as the local density of its warning pattern increases, promoting pattern monomorphism. Distasteful Heliconius butterflies are known for their diversity of warning patterns. Here, we explore whether interlocus sexual conflict can contribute to their diversification. Male Heliconius use warning patterns as mating cues, but mated females may suffer costs if this leads to disturbance, favouring novel patterns. Using simulations, we show that under our model conditions drift alone is unlikely to cause pattern diversification, but that sexual conflict can assist such a process. We also find that genetic architecture influences the evolution of male preferences, which track changes in warning pattern due to sexual selection. When male attraction imposes costs on females, this affects the speed at which novel pattern alleles increase. In two experiments, females laid fewer eggs with males present. However, although males in one experiment showed less interest in females with manipulated patterns, we found no evidence that female colouration mitigates sex-specific costs. Overall, male attraction to conspecific warning patterns may impose an unrecognized cost on Heliconius females, but further work is required to determine this experimentally.

Translated title of the contributionDoes sexual conflict contribute to the evolution of novel warning patterns?
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-578
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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