Adaptive evolution of color vision as seen through the eyes of butterflies

Francesca D. Frentiu, Gary D. Bernard, Cristina I. Cuevas, Marilou P. Sison-Mangus, Kathleen L. Prudic, Adriana D. Briscoe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Butterflies and primates are interesting for comparative color vision studies, because both have evolved middle- (M) and longwavelength- (L) sensitive photopigments with overlapping absorbance spectrum maxima (λmax values). Although positive selection is important for the maintenance of spectral variation within the primate pigments, it remains an open question whether it contributes similarly to the diversification of butterfly pigments. To examine this issue, we performed epimicrospectrophotometry on the eyes of five Limenitis butterfly species and found a 31-nm range of variation in the λmax values of the L-sensitive photopigments (514-545 nm). We cloned partial Limenitis L opsin gene sequences and found a significant excess of replacement substitutions relative to polymorphisms among species. Mapping of these L photopigment λmax values onto a phylogeny revealed two instances within Lepidoptera of convergently evolved L photopigment lineages whose λmax values were blue-shifted. A codon- based maximum-likelihood analysis indicated that, associated with the two blue spectral shifts, four amino acid sites (Ile17Met, Ala64Ser, Asn70Ser, and Ser137Ala) have evolved substitutions in parallel and exhibit significant dN/dS >1. Homology modeling of the full-length Limenitis arthemis astyanax L opsin placed all four substitutions within the chromophore-binding pocket. Strikingly, the Ser137Ala substitution is in the same position as a site that in primates is responsible for a 5- to 7-nm blue spectral shift. Our data show that some of the same amino acid sites are under positive selection in the photopigments of both butterflies and primates, spanning an evolutionary distance >500 million years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdaptation and Complex Design
PublisherNational Academies Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)030910405X, 9780309104050
StatePublished - Dec 28 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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