Animals display incredibly diverse color patterns yet little is known about the underlying genetic basis of these phenotypes. However, emerging results are reshaping our view of how the process of phenotypic evolution occurs. Here, we outline recent research from three particularly active areas of investigation: melanin pigmentation in Drosophila, wing patterning in butterflies, and pigment variation in lizards. For each system, we highlight (i) the function and evolution of color variation, (ii) various approaches that have been used to explore the genetic basis of pigment variation, and (iii) conclusions regarding the genetic basis of convergent evolution which have emerged from comparative analyses. Results from these studies indicate that natural variation in pigmentation is a particularly powerful tool to examine the molecular basis of evolution, especially with regard to convergent or parallel evolution. Comparison of these systems also reveals that the molecular basis of convergent evolution is heterogeneous, sometimes involving conserved mechanisms and sometimes not. In the near future, additional work in other emerging systems will substantially expand the scope of available comparisons.
(Open Access) doi: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2012.01014.x