Seasonal polyphenism demonstrates an organism's ability to respond to predictable environmental variation with alternative phenotypes, each presumably better suited to its respective environment. However, the molecular mechanisms linking environmental variation to alternative phenotypes via shifts in development remain relatively unknown. Here we investigate temporal gene expression variation in the seasonally polyphenic butterfly Bicyclus anynana. This species shows drastic changes in eyespot size depending on the temperature experienced during larval development. The wet season form (larvae reared over 24°C) has large ventral wing eyespots while the dry season form (larvae reared under 19°C) has much smaller eyespots. We compared the expression of three proteins, Notch, Engrailed, and Distal-less, in the future eyespot centers of the two forms to determine if eyespot size variation is associated with heterochronic shifts in the onset of their expression. For two of these proteins, Notch and Engrailed, expression in eyespot centers occurred earlier in dry season than in wet season larvae, while Distal-less showed no temporal difference between the two forms. These results suggest that differences between dry and wet season adult wings could be due to a delay in the onset of expression of these eyespot-associated genes. Early in eyespot development, Notch and Engrailed may be functioning as repressors rather than activators of the eyespot gene network. Alternatively, temporal variation in the onset of early expressed genes between forms may have no functional consequences to eyespot size regulation and may indicate the presence of an 'hourglass' model of development in butterfly eyespots.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)