in the Proceedings of the Royal Society


Arias M, Le Poul Y, Chouteau M, Boisseau R, Rosser N, Théry M & Llaurens V. 2016. Crossing fitness valleys: empirical estimation of a fitness landscape associated with polymorphic mimicry. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0391

It is available in Open Acces at


Characterizing fitness landscapes associated with polymorphic adaptive traits enables investigation of mechanisms allowing transitions between fitness peaks. Here, we explore how natural selection can promote genetic mechanisms preventing heterozygous phenotypes from falling into non-adaptive valleys. Polymorphic mimicry is an ideal system to investigate such fitness landscapes, because the direction of selection acting on complex mimetic colour patterns can be predicted by the local mimetic community composition. Using more than 5000 artificial butterflies displaying colour patterns exhibited by the polymorphic Müllerian mimic Heliconius numata, we directly tested the role of wild predators in shaping fitness landscapes. We compared predation rates on mimetic phenotypes (homozygotes at the supergene controlling colour pattern), intermediate phenotypes (heterozygotes), exotic morphs (absent from the local community) and palatable cryptic phenotypes. Exotic morphs were significantly more attacked than local morphs, highlighting predators’ discriminatory capacities. Overall, intermediates were attacked twice as much as local homozygotes, suggesting the existence of deep fitness valleys promoting strict dominance and reduced recombination between supergene alleles. By including information on predators’ colour perception, we also showed that protection on intermediates strongly depends on their phenotypic similarity to homozygous phenotypes and that ridges exist between similar phenotypes, which may facilitate divergence in colour patterns.