Molecular-level variation affects population growth in a butterfly metapopulation.

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PLoS Biol. 2006 May;4(5):e129. Epub 2006 Apr 25.

Title: Molecular-level variation affects population growth in a butterfly metapopulation.
Author: Hanski, Ilkka; Saccheri, Ilik
Other contributor: Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland.
Date: 2006
ISSN: 1545-7885
Abstract: The dynamics of natural populations are thought to be dominated by demographic and environmental processes with little influence of intraspecific genetic variation and natural selection, apart from inbreeding depression possibly reducing population growth in small populations. Here we analyse hundreds of well-characterised local populations in a large metapopulation of the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia), which persists in a balance between stochastic local extinctions and recolonisations in a network of 4,000 discrete habitat patches. We show that the allelic composition of the glycolytic enzyme phosphoglucose isomerase (Pgi) has a significant effect on the growth of local populations, consistent with previously reported effects of allelic variation on flight metabolic performance and fecundity in the Glanville fritillary and Colias butterflies. The strength and the sign of the molecular effect on population growth are sensitive to the ecological context (the area and spatial connectivity of the habitat patches), which affects genotype-specific gene flow and the influence of migration on the dynamics of local populations. The biological significance of the results for Pgi is underscored by lack of any association between population growth and allelic variation at six other loci typed in the same material. In demonstrating, to our knowledge for the first time, that molecular variation in a candidate gene affects population growth, this study challenges the perception that differential performance of individual genotypes, leading to differential fitness, is irrelevant to population dynamics. These results also demonstrate that the spatial configuration of habitat and spatial dynamics of populations contribute to maintenance of Pgi polymorphism in this species.

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