I have been working with Heliconius butterflies since 1993, when I started my PhD with Jim Mallet in University College London. The original PhD advert is posted here. My original interests were in the ecology of tropical insects, and during my PhD work I studied a hybrid zone in Ecuador between two incipient species (Heliconius himera and H. erato). I did a little bit of population genetics during my PhD using allozyme loci, which now seems like a very antiquated technique. After a brief respite as a conservation biologist in Ecuador, I then continued with a Postdoc position with Jim, during which I worked mainly in Panama. This led us to the discovery that Heliconius melpomene and H. cydno use wing patterns as cues during mating, leading to reproductive isolation – an example of an ecological traits that contributes to assortative mating and a phenomenon that is now commonly termed a ‘magic trait’.
In collaboration with Owen McMillan I began to work on the genetic basis of wing patterns in about 2001, conducting crossing experiments in Panama with races of H. melpomene. Over the subsequent years this led to the cloning and identification of wing pattern genes such as optix – a large collaborative effort involving many researchers from across the community.
Currently my group works on many aspects of Heliconius evolutionary biology, including evolutionary developmental biology of wing patterning, the genetic and behavioural basis for speciation, the sensory ecology of mimicry and analysis of the Heliconius melpomene genome. For more details see my lab homepage.