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Advergence in Müllerian mimicry: the case of the poison dart frogs of Northern Peru revisited
Whether the evolution of similar aposematic signals in different unpalatable species (i.e. Müllerian mimicry) is because of phenotypic convergence or advergence continues to puzzle scientists. The poison dart frog Ranitomeya imitator provides a rare example in support of the hypothesis of advergence: this species was believed to mimic numerous distinct model species because of high phenotypic variability and low genetic divergence among populations. In this study, we test the evidence in support of advergence using a population genetic framework in two localities where R. imitator is sympatric with different model species, Ranitomeya ventrimaculata and Ranitomeya variabilis. Genetic analyses revealed incomplete sorting of mitochondrial haplotypes between the two model species. These two species are also less genetically differentiated than R. imitator populations on the basis of both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA comparisons. The genetic similarity between the model species suggests that they have either diverged more recently than R. imitator populations or that they are still connected by gene flow and were misidentified as different species. An analysis of phenotypic variability indicates that the model species are as variable as R. imitator. These results do not support the hypothesis of advergence by R. imitator. Although we cannot rule out phenotypic advergence in the evolution of Müllerian mimicry, this study reopens the discussion regarding the direction of the evolution of mimicry in the R. imitator system.
phenotypic advergence; Ranitomeya; mimicry
Wright's Shifting Balance Theory and the Diversification of Aposematic Signals
Despite accumulating evidence for selection within natural systems, the importance of random genetic drift opposing Wright's and Fisher's views of evolution continue to be a subject of controversy. The geographical diversification of aposematic signals appears to be a suitable system to assess the factors involved in the process of adaptation since both theories were independently proposed to explain this phenomenon. In the present study, the effects of drift and selection were assessed from population genetics and predation experiments on poison-dart frogs, Ranitomaya imitator, of Northern Peru. We specifically focus on the transient zone between two distinct aposematic signals. In contrast to regions where high predation maintains a monomorphic aposematic signal, the transient zones are characterized by lowered selection and a high phenotypic diversity. As a result, the diversification of phenotypes may occur via genetic drift without a significant loss of fitness. These new phenotypes may then colonize alternative habitats if successfully recognized and avoided by predators. This study highlights the interplay between drift and selection as determinant processes in the adaptive diversification of aposematic signals. Results are consistent with the expectations of the Wright's shifting balance theory and represent, to our knowledge, the first empirical demonstration of this highly contested theory in a natural system.
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