Color pattern mimicry in Heliconius butterflies is a classic case study of complex trait adaptation via selection on a few large effect genes. Association studies have linked color pattern variation to a handful of noncoding regions, yet the presumptive cis-regulatory elements (CREs) that control color patterning remain unknown. Here we combine chromatin assays, DNA sequence associations, and genome editing to functionally characterize 5 cis-regulatory elements of the color pattern gene optix. We were surprised to find that the cis-regulatory architecture of optix is characterized by pleiotropy and regulatory fragility, where deletion of individual cis-regulatory elements has broad effects on both color pattern and wing vein development. Remarkably, we found orthologous cis-regulatory elements associate with wing pattern convergence of distantly related comimics, suggesting that parallel coevolution of ancestral elements facilitated pattern mimicry. Our results support a model of color pattern evolution in Heliconius where changes to ancient, multifunctional cis-regulatory elements underlie adaptive radiation.
Division of Environmental Biology, Award: DEB-1354318
Division of Environmental Biology, Award: DEB-1546049
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, Award: IOS-1656514
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, Award: IOS-1656389
National Science Foundation, Award: DGE-1650441
National Science Foundation, Award: OIA-1736026