Speciation by hybridization in Heliconius butterflies

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Speciation is generally regarded to result from the splitting of a single lineage. An alternative is hybrid speciation, considered to be extremely rare, in which two distinct lineages contribute genes to a daughter species. Here we show that a hybrid trait in an animal species can directly cause reproductive isolation. The butterfly species Heliconius heurippa is known to have an intermediate morphology and a hybrid genome1, and we have recreated its intermediate wing colour and pattern through laboratory crosses between H. melpomene, H. cydno and their F1 hybrids. We then used mate preference experiments to show that the phenotype of H. heurippa reproductively isolates it from both parental species. There is strong assortative mating between all three species, and in H. heurippa the wing pattern and colour elements derived from H. melpomene and H. cydno are both critical for mate recognition by males.

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We thank E. García and the UNET for help at Paramillo Natural Park, San Cristóbal, Venezuela; R. Castillo, L. Pereira and O. Quintero for butterfly collecting; M. Guerra and L. González for help with the preparation of figures; N. Barton and F. Jiggins for discussion; and L. Gilbert and J. Mallet for inspiring us to study hybridization. This work was funded by the Marie-Curie Fellowships, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Fondo Colombiano de Investigaciones Científicas y Proyectos Especiales Francisco Jose de Caldas COLCIENCIAS, Banco de la República, and private donations from Continautos S.A., Proficol El Carmen S.A., Didacol S.A., and F. Arango, Colombia. C.D.J. is supported financially by the Royal Society and by a grant from BBSRC.

Author information

Author notes

    • Jesús Mavárez
    •  & Camilo A. Salazar

    *These authors contributed equally to this work


  1. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado postal 0843-03092, Panamá, República de Panamá

    • Jesús Mavárez
    •  & Eldredge Bermingham
  2. Instituto de Genética, Universidad de los Andes, Carrera 1E No 18ª–10, PO Box 4976, Santafé de Bogotá D.C., Colombia

    • Camilo A. Salazar
    • , Christian Salcedo
    •  & Mauricio Linares
  3. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK

    • Chris D. Jiggins


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Competing interests

The sequences have been deposited in GenBank under accession numbers DQ445384–DQ445414 (Distal-less) and DQ445416–DQ445457 (Invected). Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jesús Mavárez or Mauricio Linares.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Notes

    This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures and Legends 1–8, and additional references.


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