CIE Spotlight: The danger within: the role of genetic, behavioural and ecological factors in population persistence of colour polymorphic species

Lee  Ann R.
Lee Ann R.

TitleThe danger within: the role of genetic, behavioural and ecological factors in population persistence of colour polymorphic species

Authors: Peri E. Bolton, Lee A. Rollins and Simon C. Griffith

Source: Molecular Ecology (article first published online: May 2015)

Brief summary of the paper: Polymorphic species have been the focus of important work in evolutionary biology. It has been suggested that colour polymorphic species have specific evolutionary and population dynamics that enable them to persist through environmental changes better than less variable species.

We suggest that recent empirical and theoretical work indicates that polymorphic species may be more vulnerable to extinction than previously thought. This vulnerability arises because these species often have a number of correlated sexual, behavioural, life history and ecological traits, which can have a simple genetic underpinning. When exacerbated by environmental change, these alternate strategies can lead to conflict between morphs at the genomic and population levels, which can directly or indirectly affect population and evolutionary dynamics.

In this perspective, we identify a number of ways in which the nature of the correlated traits, their underpinning genetic architecture, and the inevitable interactions between colour morphs can result in a reduction in population fitness.

The principles illustrated here apply to all kinds of discrete polymorphism (e.g. behavioural syndromes), but we focus primarily on colour polymorphism because they are well studied.

We urge further empirical investigation of the genetic architecture and interactions in polymorphic species to elucidate the impact on population fitness.