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Unformatted text preview: NSF Web Site February 28, 2011 Observing a split in the butterfly family tree Larry Gilbert got hooked on observing butterflies when he was a just a kid. "I found a chrysalis of a black swallowtail in a lot near our house. I raised it in a Coke bottle in the window, and have been interested in butterflies ever since," says Gilbert, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas. In a rooftop greenhouse on the Austin campus, where he has worked since 1971, and as director of the 82-acre Brackenridge Field Lab just a few minutes away, Gilbert focuses much of his Evolution in Action Download video Enlarge image Scientists have found a population of tropical butterflies that may be on its way to splitting into two distinct species based on wing color and mate preference. Listen to the researchers describe the relationship between diverging color patterns in About Science Nation Get eMail Updates Contact Us More Special Reports Science360 News NSF Home Archive Virtual Reality Maps Virtual Self DigiMorph: Bringing Fossils to Life Orangutan Copy Cats Spray-on Solar Panels Evolution in Action Bonobos and Chimpanzees Robotic Arms Ticket to Ride Babies and Learning Lord of the Tree nsf.gov - Special Report - Science Nation http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/evolut... 1 of 5 8/3/11 10:32 AM research on Heliconius butterflies. From the southern United States south through Mexico, Central and South America, these tropical butterflies have a huge variety of color patterns. Their dazzling array of colors is primarily to warn predators that they taste bad, so local birds learn to avoid them. "The color pattern is a complex of two forces, the anti-predator force, which is probably the predominant thing, but the details may involve the selection of the right mate," says Gilbert. "Heliconius are not just beautiful, they are smart in the sense of having flexible behavior," continues Gilbert, as he points out several butterflies on passion vines in the campus greenhouse. "So in nature, they can learn the position of these flowers and return to those on a regular basis. This was stuff I worked on as a grad student. If you put numbers on their wings, they are able to cruise around and show up at the same little inconspicuous flower at the same time every day. They run a very complicated route in the forest, and then they go roost in the same place every night. " By being so efficient in finding food sources, Heliconius can expand their lifespan from a month and a half to six months. That also means they can extend their reproductive output from about 200 eggs in their lifetime to about 2,000 eggs. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Gilbert and his colleagues are studying a population of Heliconius that they think is in the process of evolving into two distinct species. It's known as "speciation" when one species branches into two that no longer interbreed, and for Heliconius, the process involves those color patterns.process involves those color patterns....
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This note was uploaded on 09/29/2011 for the course BIO 201 taught by Professor True during the Spring '08 term at SUNY Stony Brook.
- Spring '08