Chiara De Pasqual will defend her doctoral thesis titled “On the maintenance of intrapopulation genetic variation: the interplay between sexual selection, chemical communication, and fitness in the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis)” on December 2nd, 2022 at 12:00 Finnish time. The public defence will take place in Seminarium, Old Festival Hall (S212, Seminarinmäki) at the University of Jyväskylä. The Opponent is Associate Professor Matthew Symonds from Deakin University, Australia and the Custos is Academy Professor Johanna Mappes from University of Helsinki and Jyväskylä.
Chiara studied the role of potential associations between variation in hindwing coloration and sexual and reproductive traits in maintaining phenotypic and genetic diversity in natural populations, using the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) as study system. Understanding the processes that maintain genetic variation has important implications, since genetic diversity ensures population resilience to environmental changes, the conservation of ecosystem biodiversity, and adaptation to climate change. Mating experiments, from mate attraction (considering female sex pheromone and male sensory receiving structures - antennae) to reproductive output in different experimental setup, uncovered mechanisms of balancing selection that contribute to maintain the different color alleles. In particular, the more genetically variable females benefit from a reproductive advantage, promoting the maintenance of genetic variation in the population. In addition, differently colored individuals, thus with different genetic background, benefit from context-specific advantages across the reproductive sequence. The thesis highlighted the importance of studying the complex interactions between the genetic basis of the trait, animal behavior, and the effect of the environment to further our understanding of how phenotypic and genetic variation are maintained in nature.