- Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
- Evolutionary Theory
Evolution and genetic architecture of disassortative mating at a locus under heterozygote advantage
Evolutionary insights into disassortative mating and its association to an ecologically relevant supergene
Heliconius butterflies are famous for their colorful wing patterns acting as a warning of their chemical defenses . Most species are involved in Müllerian mimicry assemblies, as predators learn to associate common wing patterns with unpalatability and preferentially target rare variants. Such positive-frequency dependent selection homogenizes wing patterns at different localities, and in several species, all individuals within a community belong to the same morph . In this respect, H. numata stands out. This species shows stable local polymorphism across multiple localities, with local populations home to up to seven distinct morphs . Although a balance between migration and local positive-frequency dependent selection can allow some degree of local polymorphism, theory suggests that this occurs only when migration is within a narrow window .
One factor that potentially enhances local polymorphism in H. numata is disassortative mating. Mate choice assays have in fact revealed that females of this species tend to reject males with the same wing pattern . However the evolution of such mating behavior and its effect on polymorphism remain unclear when selection is locally positive-frequency dependent. Using a mathematical model, Maisonneuve et al.  clarify the conditions that favor the evolution of disassortative mating in the complicated system of H. numata. In particular, they investigate whether the genetic basis of wing colour can favor the emergence of disassortative mating. Variation in wing pattern in H. numata is controlled by the supergene P, which is a single genomic region harboring multiple protein coding genes that have ceased to recombine due to chromosomal inversions . If such remarkable genetic configuration allows for the co-adaptation of multiple loci participating to a complex phenotype such as wing color pattern, the absence of recombination can also result in the accumulation of deleterious mutations . In fact, alleles at the P locus have been associated with a recessive genetic load, leading to a fitness advantage for heterozygotes at this locus . Can this fitness advantage to heterozygotes lead to the evolution of disassortative mating? And if so, can such evolution lead to the maintenance of local polymorphism in spite of strong positive frequency-dependent selection?
To investigate these questions, Maisonneuve et al.  model evolution at two loci, one is the P locus for wing pattern, and the other influences mating behavior. The population is divided among two connected patches that differ in their butterfly communities, so that different alleles at the P locus are favored by positive frequency-dependent selection in different patches. The different alleles at the P locus are ordered in dominance relationships such that the most dominant over wing color pattern are also those with the highest load. By tracking the dynamics of haplotype frequencies in the population, the authors first show that disassortative mating readily evolves via the invasion of an allele causing females carrying it to reject males that resemble them phenotypically. Such “self-referencing” mechanism of mate choice, however, has never been reported and has been argued to be rare due to its complicated nature .
Maisonneuve et al.  then compare the evolution of disassortative mating via two alternative mechanisms: attraction and rejection. In these cases, alleles at the mating locus determine attraction to or rejection of specific phenotypes (e.g., under attraction rule, allele “B” encodes attraction to males with phenotype B). With the P and mating loci fully linked, disassortative mating can evolve under all three mechanisms (self-referencing, attraction and rejection), but tends to be less prevalent at equilibrium under attraction rule. This in turn results in the maintenance of less genetic variation under attraction compared to the other mating mechanisms. The loss of variation that occurs under attraction rules is due to a combination of dominance relationships between alleles at the P locus and the searching cost to females in finding rare types of males. When a particular wing pattern, say B, is only expressed in homozygotic form, B males are relatively rare. Females that carry the allele at the mating locus causing them to be attracted to such males then suffer a fitness cost due to lost mating opportunities. This mating allele is therefore purged, and in turn so is the recessive allele for B phenotype at the P locus. Under self-referencing and rejection rules, however, choosy females only reject males of a specific phenotype. They can therefore potentially mate with larger pool of males than females attracted to a single type. As a result, self-referencing and rejection rules are less sensitive to demographic effects and so are more conducive to disassortative mating evolution.
In their final analysis, Maisonneuve et al.  investigate the influence of recombination among the P and mating loci. They show that recombination has different effects on disassortative mating evolution depending on the mechanism of mate choice. Under the self-referencing rule, loose linkage leads to higher levels of disassortative mating and polymorphism than when linkage is tight. Under attraction or rejection rule, however, even very limited recombination completely inhibits the evolution of disassortative mating. This is because, with alleles at the mating locus coding for attraction/rejection to specific males, recombination breaks the association between the P and mating loci necessary for disassortative mating. By contrast, disassortative mating via a self-referencing rule does not depend on the linkage among the P and mating loci: females choose males that are different to themselves independently from the alleles they carry at the P locus.
Taken together, Maisonneuve et al.’s analyses  show that disassortative mating can readily evolve in a system like H. numata, but that this evolution depends on the genetic architecture of mating behavior. The architectures that are more conducive to the evolution of disassortative mating are: (1) epistatic interactions among the P and mating loci such that females are able to recognize their own phenotype and base their mating decision upon this information (self-referencing rule); and (2) full linkage among the P supergene and a mating locus that triggers rejection of a specific color pattern. While the mechanisms behind disassortative mating remain to be elucidated, assortative mating seems to rely on alleles triggering attraction to specific cues with variation in attraction and cues linked together . These observations support the notion that disassortative mating is due to alleles causing rejection, in tight linkage to the P locus. If so, mating loci would in fact be part of the P supergene, thus controlling not only intricate wing color pattern but also mating behavior.
Beyond the specific system of H. numata, Maisonneuve et al.’s study  helps understand the evolution of disassortative mating and its association with the genetic architecture of correlated traits. In particular, Maisonneuve et al.  expands the role of supergenes for ecologically relevant traits to mating behavior, further bolstering the relevance of these remarkable genetic elements in the maintenance of variation in complex and elaborate phenotypes.
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