Colour polymorphism is likely to be disadvantageous to some populations and species due to genetic architecture and morph interactions

Peri E. Bolton*, Lee A. Rollins, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Polymorphism describes two or more distinct, genetically determined, phenotypes that co-occur in the same population, where the rarest morph is maintained at a frequency above the mutation rate (Ford 1945; Huxley 1955). In a recent opinion piece, we explored a new idea regarding the role of genetic architectures and morph interactions in colour polymorphisms and how this can negatively affect population performance (Bolton et al. 2015). In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Forsman (2016) thoroughly discusses the current evidence for polymorphisms enhancing population performance and critiques the validity of the definitions of polymorphism we use in our original paper. We respond by clarifying that the negative consequences of polymorphisms that we discussed are likely to be most pertinent in species that have a particular set of characteristics, such as strong sexual or social interactions between morphs and discrete genetic architectures. Although it was not our intention to redefine polymorphism, we do believe that there should be further discussion about refining or characterizing balanced polymorphisms with respect to the degree of morph sympatry, discreteness of traits and their underlying genetic architecture, and the types of selection that drive and maintain the variation. The latter describes whether polymorphism is primarily maintained by external factors such as predation pressure or internal factors such as interactions with members of the same species. The contribution of Forsman (2016) is useful to this discussion, and we hope that our exchange of opinions will inspire new empirical and theoretical ideas on the origin and maintenance of colour polymorphisms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2713-2718
    Number of pages6
    JournalMolecular Ecology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


    • adaptation
    • conservation biology
    • ecological genetics
    • evolutionary theory
    • genomics
    • population dynamics


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