Nat Ecol Evol - (-) - [2023-11-06; online 2023-11-06]
Sex-limited morphs can provide profound insights into the evolution and genomic architecture of complex phenotypes. Inter-sexual mimicry is one particular type of sex-limited polymorphism in which a novel morph resembles the opposite sex. While inter-sexual mimics are known in both sexes and a diverse range of animals, their evolutionary origin is poorly understood. Here, we investigated the genomic basis of female-limited morphs and male mimicry in the common bluetail damselfly. Differential gene expression between morphs has been documented in damselflies, but no causal locus has been previously identified. We found that male mimicry originated in an ancestrally sexually dimorphic lineage in association with multiple structural changes, probably driven by transposable element activity. These changes resulted in ~900 kb of novel genomic content that is partly shared by male mimics in a close relative, indicating that male mimicry is a trans-species polymorphism. More recently, a third morph originated following the translocation of part of the male-mimicry sequence into a genomic position ~3.5 mb apart. We provide evidence of balancing selection maintaining male mimicry, in line with previous field population studies. Our results underscore how structural variants affecting a handful of potentially regulatory genes and morph-specific genes can give rise to novel and complex phenotypic polymorphisms.