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The inheritance and population genetics of sex ratio in the butterfly Acraea encedon



In West and East Africa the butterfly, Acraea encedon, occurs in well-defined populations that are often predominantly female. Breeding the butterfly in the laboratory revealed the presence of an all-female strain, which is inherited directly through the female parent. It is probable that the inheritance is controlled by a Y-linked gene, causing meiotic drive in the Y chromosome, but the possibility of cytoplasmic inheritance has not been ruled out. A simple model for the population genetics of a predominantly female population indicates that such a population should rapidly become extinct due to the spreading of the all-female strain, but in most field populations studied extinction does not occur as quickly as predicted, if at all. Three factors which could enable populations to avoid extinction are investigated: suppressing systems, frequency-dependent mating preference and the sequence of emergence of the sexes in normal broods. No positive evidence has yet been found for the existence of a gene or genes capable of suppressing the sex ratio aberration, and no frequency-dependent mating preference was found, but an argument is presented which shows that the sequence of emergence in normal broods could be partly responsible for the maintenance of stable equilibria in predominantly female populations. Attempts to upset the sex ratio in the normal strain by making crosses between widely separated populations were not successful.

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