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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Butterfly dichromatism primarily evolved via Darwin's, not Wallace's, model

van der Bijl, Wouter; Zeuss, Dirk; Chazot, Nicolas; Tunstrom, Kalle; Wahlberg, Niklas; Wiklund, Christer; Fitzpatrick, John L.; Wheat, Christopher W.


Sexual dimorphism is typically thought to result from sexual selection for elaborated male traits, as proposed by Darwin. However, natural selection could reduce expression of elaborated traits in females, as proposed by Wallace. Darwin and Wallace debated the origins of dichromatism in birds and butterflies, and although evidence in birds is roughly equal, if not in favor of Wallace's model, butterflies lack a similar scale of study. Here, we present a large-scale comparative phylogenetic analysis of the evolution of butterfly coloration, using all European non-hesperiid butterfly species (n = 369). We modeled evolutionary changes in coloration for each species and sex along their phylogeny, thereby estimating the rate and direction of evolution in three-dimensional color space using a novel implementation of phylogenetic ridge regression. We show that male coloration evolved faster than female coloration, especially in strongly dichromatic clades, with male contribution to changes in dichromatism roughly twice that of females. These patterns are consistent with a classic Darwinian model of dichromatism via sexual selection on male coloration, suggesting this model was the dominant driver of dichromatism in European butterflies.


Butterfly; color; comparative analysis; dichromatism; phylogenetic ridge regression; phylogeny; sex; sexual dimorphism

Published in

Evolution letters
2020, volume: 4, number: 6, pages: 545-555

Authors' information

van der Bijl, Wouter
University of British Columbia
Zeuss, Dirk
Philipps University Marburg
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Lund University
Tunstrom, Kalle
Stockholm University
Wahlberg, Niklas
Lund University
Wiklund, Christer
Stockholm University
Fitzpatrick, John L.
Stockholm University
Wheat, Christopher W.
Stockholm University

UKÄ Subject classification

Evolutionary Biology

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