Back to basics: Using colour polymorphisms to study evolutionary processes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Here, I suggest that colour polymorphic study systems have been underutilized to answer general questions about evolutionary processes, such as morph frequency dynamics between generations and population divergence in morph frequencies. Colour polymorphisms can be used to study fundamental evolutionary processes like frequency-dependent selection, gene flow, recombination and correlational selection for adaptive character combinations. However, many previous studies of colour polymorphism often suffer from weak connections to population genetic theory. I argue that too much focus has been directed towards noticeable visual traits (colour) at the expense of understanding the evolutionary processes shaping genetic variation and covariation associated with polymorphisms in general. There is thus no need for a specific evolutionary theory for colour polymorphisms beyond the general theory of the maintenance of polymorphisms in spatially or temporally variable environments or through positive or negative frequency-dependent selection. I outline an integrative research programme incorporating these processes and suggest some fruitful avenues in future investigations of colour polymorphisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2204-2211
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number8
Early online date2017 Feb 6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Adaptation
  • Animal mating/breeding systems
  • Behaviour/social evolution
  • Comparative biology
  • Contemporary evolution
  • Ecological genetics


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