It has been proposed that phenotypic plasticity and genetic assimilation through natural selection partly determine the direction of divergent selection that eventually results in speciation. To elucidate a process of butterfly color-pattern evolution and speciation in the light of this hypothesis, morphological and physiological differences between a pair of sister species, the Painted Lady butterfly Vanessa cardui and the Australian Painted Lady butterfly Vanessa kershawi, were investigated. Ten different traits of wing color-pattern were indicated, most of which concerned the darker coloration of V. kershawi, with the notable exception of the blue foci at the center of the black focal elements only in V. kershawi. Differences in behavior and life history between the two species appeared to be minimal, but importantly, V. kershawi tends to prefer a “stressful” arid environment. The experimental treatment of pupae of V. cardui either by low temperature or by injection of thapsigargin, a stress-inducing chemical, readily produced individuals with the darker coloration and the blue foci as a result of a general stress response. These stress-induced color-pattern modifications were considered to be the revelation of phenotypic plasticity in V. cardui. Taken together, I propose that the ancestral species of V. kershawi had similar phenotypic plasticity. Natural selection exploited this plasticity and shaped the present V. kershawi as an independent species, whose specific color-pattern traits are by-products of this adaptation process.
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