Pollen feeding in Heliconius butterflies: the singular evolution of an adaptive suite

Fletcher J Young, Stephen H Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
109 Downloads (Pure)


Major evolutionary transitions can be triggered by behavioural novelty, and are often associated with ‘adaptive suites’, which involve shifts in multiple co-adapted traits subject to complex interactions. Heliconius butterflies represent one such example, actively feeding on pollen, a behaviour unique among butterflies. Pollen feeding permits a prolonged reproductive lifespan, and co-occurs with a constellation of behavioural, neuroanatomical, life history, morphological and physiological traits that are absent in closely related, non-pollen-feeding genera. As a highly tractable system, supported by considerable ecological and genomic data, Heliconius are an excellent model for investigating how behavioural innovation can trigger a cascade of adaptive shifts in multiple diverse, but interrelated, traits. Here, we syn- thesize current knowledge of pollen feeding in Heliconius, and explore potential interactions between associated, putatively adaptive, traits. Currently, no physiological, morphological or molecular innovation has been explicitly linked to the origin of pollen feeding, and several hypo- thesized links between different aspects of Heliconius biology remain poorly tested. However, resolving these uncertainties will contribute to our understanding of how behavioural innovations evolve and subsequently alter the evolutionary trajectories of diverse traits impacting resource acquisition, life history, senescence and cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20201304
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1938
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2020


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