The genetic complexity of warning signals

In a Nutshell

Traditionally, only a handful of model organisms have been used to develop genomic tools, and these are chiefly chosen for their convenience. 

However, genomes of non-model organisms allow us to answer diverse evolutionary questions. For example, we can use population studies to look at the genetic basis of trait evolution and phylogenetics to construct taxonomic relationships. 

Our current work aims to determine the genetic basis of a complex polymorphism in the wood tiger moth.

Colour is often used as an aposematic warning signal and expected to evolutionarily converge on a single colour pattern within a population. But there are many puzzling cases of polymorphic aposematism. Hypothetically, this could result from genetic correlations between colour phenotypes and traits that are beneficial in other contexts. In male A. plantaginis, for instance, colour morphs vary alongside behavioural and life history traits such as immunity, chemical defence and flight patterns.

The genetic control of complex polymorphisms remains a puzzle, especially when multiple traits are involved. Our attempt to solve the puzzle involves a high-quality reference genome for the wood tiger moth, assembled using a novel trio-binning method (Yen et al. 2020). Our intention is to use this reference genome to determine the genetic basis of multiple traits, including colouration, behaviour, and variation in chemical defences.


Key Papers

  • Yen EC, McCarthy SA, Galarza JA, et al. A haplotype-resolved, de novo genome assembly for the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) through trio binning. Gigascience. 2020;9:1–12. pdf
  • Galarza JA, Mappes J. The complete mitochondrial genome of the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) and phylogenetic analyses within Arctiinae. Mitochondrial DNA Part B: Resources. 2021; 6(8):2171-2173. link
  • Brien MN, Orteau A, Yen EC, Galarza JA, Kirvesoja J, Pakkanen H, Wakamatsu K, Jiggins CD & Mappes J. Colour polymorphism associated with a gene duplication in male wood tiger moths. Evolution. 2022. link