The Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) comprise more than 150,000 species, many of economic importance (e.g., as pollinators, as agricultural pests, and in silk production), and have characteristic biological properties that distinguish them from all other insects (e.g., females as the heterogametic sex, derived wing color patterns and color vision, and holocentric chromosomes). However, genomic resources in the Lepidoptera are under-represented relative to the biological importance of this group. Most available information concerns the silk moth Bombyx mori. There is not much available for other moths and very little available for butterflies. Bicyclus anynana has been established as the butterfly lab model and is suitable to address important questions in ecological, evolutionary, and developmental genetics. Developing genomic resources for B. anynana butterflies is a fundamental step toward fully utilizing this system to address important issues in contemporary biology, as well as furthering our understanding of the biology of the Lepidoptera.
The wing patterns of B. anynana butterflies provide an ideal opportunity to analyze different modes of phenotypic variation at different levels of biological organization. Furthermore, studies of B. anynana wing patterns provide the opportunity to address other key issues in evolutionary-developmental biology, including the evolution of morphological innovations and the co-opting of existing developmental pathways to produce new phenotypes; modularity in development and how the developmental integration of traits might constrain their evolutionary change; phenotypic plasticity and how the environment can influence development; and the functional integration and concerted evolution of different phenotypes, such as butterfly wing patterns and butterfly color vision.
Protecting biodiversity is an important obligation of developed societies. The study of animal diversity and the interest of the general public are essential for this effort. Butterflies have long been recognized as important players for both criteria, demonstrating remarkable diversity and enhancing public understanding of science through the common language of beauty.
CSP project participants: Anthony D. Long (proposer, UC Irvine), Patricia Beldade and Paul Brakefield (Leiden Univ., The Netherlands), Antonia Monteiro (Univ. at Buffalo).