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Back to basics : Using colour polymorphisms to study evolutionary processes

  • Erik I. Svensson
Publishing year: 2017-02-06
Language: English
Publication/Series: Molecular Ecology
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Abstract english

Here, I suggest that colour polymorphic study systems have been underutilized to answer general questions about evolutionary processes, such as morph frequency dynamics between generations and population divergence in morph frequencies. Colour polymorphisms can be used to study fundamental evolutionary processes like frequency-dependent selection, gene flow, recombination and correlational selection for adaptive character combinations. However, many previous studies of colour polymorphism often suffer from weak connections to population genetic theory. I argue that too much focus has been directed towards noticeable visual traits (colour) at the expense of understanding the evolutionary processes shaping genetic variation and covariation associated with polymorphisms in general. There is thus no need for a specific evolutionary theory for colour polymorphisms beyond the general theory of the maintenance of polymorphisms in spatially or temporally variable environments or through positive or negative frequency-dependent selection. I outline an integrative research programme incorporating these processes and suggest some fruitful avenues in future investigations of colour polymorphisms.


  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Adaptation
  • Animal mating/breeding systems
  • Behaviour/social evolution
  • Comparative biology
  • Contemporary evolution
  • Ecological genetics


  • ISSN: 0962-1083
E-mail: erik [dot] svensson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

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Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden