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July 6, 2020

Is evolution predictable?

An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama was faced with a mystery: How do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again? The answer, published in Current Biology, forever changes the way evolution is understood. This research team is the first to report that although evolution of similar color patterns in Heliconius may be driven by similar forces, like predators avoiding a particular kind of butterfly, the pathway to that outcome is not predictable. The surprising finding reveals the importance of history and chance in shaping the genetic pathways leading to butterfly wing-pattern mimicry.

Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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