Inheritance, distribution and genetic differentiation of a color polymorphism in Panamanian populations of the tortoise beetle, Chelymorpha alternans (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).
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Intraspecific variation maintained in natural populations has long intrigued scientists and naturalists. One form of this variation, color polymorphisms, provide a rich opportunity to connect genotypic and phenotypic diversity within an ecological and evolutionary context. The existence of color polymorphisms in Panamanian populations of the Neotropical tortoise beetle, Chelymorpha alternans, has been suspected but never systematically explored. To characterize geographic distribution and underlying genetics we sampled a total of 3819 beetles from 28 sites across Panama, quantifying five distinct phenotypes. Two phenotypes, the "metallic" and "rufipennis" are the most widely distributed phenotypes, occurring in nearly all collecting sites. The "veraguensis" phenotype was found to be restricted to the Western end of the Isthmus and the "militaris" phenotypes restricted to sites east of the canal. Controlled matings between phenotypes and reared offspring revealed no indications of reproductive barriers, even among phenotypes which do not co-occur in nature. Color pattern phenotype is largely controlled by Mendelian assortment of four alleles competing at a single locus. A clear dominance hierarchy exists among alleles, with two being co-dominant. Genomic scans from 32 individuals revealed low levels of genetic differentiation, with a small fraction of the genome showing a high degree of divergence. The easily observed variation among populations, simple genetic architecture, and rearing capabilities, make this a promising system for investigating proximate and ultimate factors of phenotypic variation.