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Dr Richard Merrill

Research Interests

My research focuses on the ecological, genetic and developmental basis of adaptive behaviours that contribute to the evolution of new species. In particular, I am interested in how behavioural isolation evolves, and how genetic architecture and other factors may influence this process. I mostly work with Heliconius butterflies, which show a striking radiation of warning patterns across the Neotropics often associated with Müllerian mimicry. These warning colour patterns are also used as mate recognition cues and are associated with diverging preference behaviours contributing to varying degrees of assortative mating. I have previously demonstrated that the genetic loci underlying divergent mating preferences and their colour pattern cues are physically linked in the genome, which should facilitate speciation with gene flow. A major ongoing project concerns the nature of these associations as well as the genetics of behavioural isolation in Heliconius butterflies more broadly.

Key Publications

Merrill, R.M., et al. (2015) The diversification of Heliconius butterflies. What have we learned in 150 years? Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 28:1417-38

Merrill, R.M, Wallbank, R.W., Bull, V., Salazar, P., Mallet, J., Stevens, M. & Jiggins C.D. (2012) Disruptive ecological selection on a mating cue. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 79: 4907-4913.

Merrill, R.M., van Schooten, B., Scott, J.A.,  & Jiggins, C.D. (2011) Pervasive genetic associations between traits causing reproductive isolation in Heliconius butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278: 511-518.

Other Publications

Montgomery, S.H. & Merrill, R. M.  (2016) Adaptive divergence in brain composition between ecologically distinct incipient species. bioRxiv doi:

Vanjari, S., Mann, F., Merrill, R.M., Schulz, S., Jiggins, C.D., (2016)  Male sex pheromones in Heliconius butterflies. bioRxiv..

Montgomery, S.H., Merrill, R.M.,  & Ott, S.W. (2016) Brain composition in Heliconius butterflies, post-eclosion growth and experience dependent neuropil plasticity. In press, Journal of Comparative Neurology do:10.1002/cne.23993

Merrill, R.MChia, A. Nadeau, N.J. (2014) Divergent warning patterns contribute to assortative mating between incipient Heliconius  species. Ecology and Evolution. 7: 911-917.

Merrill, R.M, Naisbit, R.E., Mallet, J. & Jiggins C.D. (2013) Ecological and genetic factors influencing the transition between host-use strategies in sympatric Heliconius butterflies. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 1959-1967.
Merrill, R.M., Gompert, Z., Dembeck, L., Kronforst, M.R., McMillan, W.O. & Jiggins, C.D. (2011) Mate preference across the speciation continuum in a clade of mimetic butterflies. Evolution 65:1489-1500.
Van Dirk, R.E, Eising, C.E., Merrill, R.M., Karadas, F., Hatchwell, B. & Spottiswoode, C.N. (2012) Maternal effects in the highly sociable weaver, Philetairus socius, may exacerbate brood reduction and prepare offspring for a competitive social environment. Oecologia 171: 379-389.
Merrill, R.M & Jiggins, C.D. (2009) Müllerian mimicry: sharing the load reduces the legwork. Current Biology 19: R687-9
Seddon, N., Merrill, R.M. & Tobias, J. A. (2008) Sexually selected traits predict patterns of species richness in a diverse clade of Suboscine birds. The American Naturalist 171: 620-31
Merrill, R.M., Lewis, O, Gutiérrez D., Gutiérrez J. & Wilson, R.J (2008) Combined effects of climate and biotic interactions on the elevational range of a phytophagous insect. Journal of Animal Ecology 77: 145-155