• Genetic polymorphism;
  • melanism;
  • dominance;
  • penetrance;
  • expression;
  • regulatory genes;
  • female limitation;
  • Philaenus spumarius.

The results of breeding experiments designed to determine the genetic control of the colour/pattern polymorphism in Philaenus spumarius in certain British populations are described and contrasted to previously published results for material taken from populations in southern Finland.

The 11 principal phenotypes are controlled by seven alleles at a single autosomal locus, with complex patterns of dominance and co-dominance. In Finland, and most of the rest of the species' extensive range, the eight melanic morphs are wholly or substantially limited to the females, in which they are dominant to the typical form. Previously, this sex limitation has been explained in terms of reduced penetrance of melanic alleles in males and/or dominance reversal between the sexes, such that the eight melanic phenotypes (controlled by five alleles which are adjacent in the dominance heirarchy) are dominant to typical in the females but recessive in the males. Published data on morph frequencies in S Finland and on breeding experiments using material collected from these populations are re-examined and it is shown that neither theory accounts adequately for all the evidence.

By contrast, in most British populations there is greatly increased penetrance in males of the melanic morphs which are strictly female-limited elsewhere. Breeding experiments, using P. spumarius taken from selected British populations, provide clear evidence that melanics are dominant to typical in both sexes. This difference in genetic control is entirely consistent with the balance of morph frequencies between the sexes in the populations from which the breeding material for the two separate studies was taken. Experimental material for this study was taken from populations in the Cynon Valley in south Wales, which have the highest melanic frequencies in the species' range and show particularly clear expression of melanic phenotypes in males. Both of these features are strongly correlated with severe aerial pollution from a local smokeless fuel factory. Selection for melanism in these populations is clearly strong, which probably accounts for the high level of penetrance and the dominance of melanics to typical in both sexes. Although further experiments are needed, it is suggested that regulatory loci, controlling the penetrance and expression of melanic alleles in males, could account for the observed differences in genetic control between populations in Britain and Finland.