• Aposematism;
  • Bocas del Toro;
  • coalescence;
  • coloration;
  • Dendrobates;
  • Dendrobatidae;
  • mate choice;
  • Oophaga pumilio;
  • polymorphism;
  • selection


Aim  The strawberry poison frog, Oophaga pumilio, has undergone a remarkable radiation of colour morphs in the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama. This species shows extreme variation in colour and pattern between populations that have been geographically isolated for < 10,000 years. While previous research has suggested the involvement of divergent selection, to date no quantitative test has examined this hypothesis.

Location  Bocas del Toro archipelago, Panama.

Methods  We use a combination of population genetics, phylogeography and phenotypic analyses to test for divergent selection in coloration in O. pumilio. Tissue samples of 88 individuals from 15 distinct populations were collected. Using these data, we developed a gene tree using the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) d-loop region. Using parameters derived from our mtDNA phylogeny, we predicted the coalescence of a hypothetical nuclear gene underlying coloration. We collected spectral reflectance and body size measurements on 94 individuals from four of the populations and performed a quantitative analysis of phenotypic divergence.

Results  The mtDNA d-loop tree revealed considerable polyphyly across populations. Coalescent reconstructions of gene trees within population trees revealed incomplete genotypic sorting among populations. The quantitative analysis of phenotypic divergence revealed complete lineage sorting by colour, but not by body size: populations showed non-overlapping variation in spectral reflectance measures of body coloration, while variation in body size did not separate populations. Simulations of the coalescent using parameter values derived from our empirical analyses demonstrated that the level of sorting among populations seen in colour cannot reasonably be attributed to drift.

Main conclusions  These results imply that divergence in colour, but not body size, is occurring at a faster rate than expected under neutral processes. Our study provides the first quantitative support for the claim that strong diversifying selection underlies colour variation in the strawberry poison frog.