The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

Comparative and experimental wing pattern genomics in Lepidoptera



Quick facts

Project title: 
Comparative and experimental wing pattern genomics in Lepidoptera
ZFMK Project lead: 


Understanding coloration and its variation among species, especially in Lepidoptera, has fascinated scientists since the beginning of natural history. In this project we want to compare two genera that have different ecological strategies for protecting themselves from predators using their wing patterns. Hyles moths aim at camouflage while Zygaena show aposematic coloration warning predators of their toxicity. By comparing the genomic basis of wing patterns in two moth genera, we set our analyses into an evolutionary context within the Lepidoptera, comparing the differences in the effect of various selection pressures on wing patterns. Climate change will impact environmental gradients, which is expected to result in changing wing pattern distributions, induced by adaptive hybridization. Müllerian mimicry leads to convergence of wing patterns in Zygaena, and convergence is also expected in the genetic makeup underlying the wing patterns across the genus. To understand the genetic background of wing patterns, we will use genome wide association studies enabling us to find genotype phenotype trait associations. Machine learning will be used in this context to delimitate evolutionary significant units and to extract phenotypic traits. Furthermore breeding experiments under differing controlled temperature conditions will be conducted and results will be compared to collection site climate data to understand the impact of phenotypic plasticity on wing pattern development in individuals. This novel use of natural history collections through automated image analysis combined with genomic data from historic collections and fresh specimens will drive integrative taxonomic research on museum specimens.


Contact person

Head of section
+49 228 9122-220
+49 228 9122-212
m.espeland [at]