Developmental plasticity in multimodal signals: light environment produces novel signalling phenotypes in a butterfly

Amod Mohan Zambre, Linnea Burns, Jayanti Suresh, Adrian D. Hegeman, Emilie C. Snell-Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Developmental plasticity can alter the expression of sexual signals in novel environments and is therefore thought to play an important role in promoting divergence. Sexual signals, however, are often multimodal and mate choice multivariate. Hence, to understand how developmental plasticity can facilitate divergence, we must assess plasticity across signal components and its cumulative impact on signalling. Here, we examine how developmental plasticity influences different components of cabbage white butterfly Pieris rapae multimodal signals, its effects on their signalling phenotypes and its implications for divergence. To do this, we reared P. rapae caterpillars under two different light environments (low-light and high-light) to simulate conditions experienced by P. rapae colonizing a novel light habitat. We then examined plasticity in both visual (wing coloration) and olfactory (pheromone abundance) components of male sexual signals. We found light environments influenced expression of both visual and olfactory components and resulted in a trade-off between signal modalities. The 'low-light' phenotype had duller wing colours but higher abundance of the pheromone, indole, whereas the 'high-light' phenotype had comparatively brighter wings but lower abundance of indole. These results show that by simultaneously altering expression of different signal components, developmental plasticity can produce multiple signalling phenotypes, which may catalyse divergence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220099
JournalBiology letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 17 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behaviour, University of Minnesota, Research Award to A.M.Z. A.D.H. and J.S. were supported by funds from the Luby Family Honeycrisp Endowed Chair for Fruit Crop Innovation. Acknowledgments

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s).


  • butterfly
  • developmental plasticity
  • divergence
  • multimodal sexual signals
  • pheromones
  • wing colour

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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