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Comparative Study
, 28 (3), 473-84

Towards a Better Understanding of the Higher Systematics of Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea)

Comparative Study

Towards a Better Understanding of the Higher Systematics of Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea)

Niklas Wahlberg et al. Mol Phylogenet Evol.


Research on the molecular systematics of higher taxa in the butterfly family Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera) is only just beginning. Outgroup selection is difficult at the moment due to the lack of consensus on the basal relationships of the major groups in Nymphalidae. We identify four major clades in the Nymphalidae based on a cladistic analysis of one mitochondrial gene sequence (COI, 1450 bp) and two nuclear gene sequences (EF-1alpha, 1064 bp, and wingless, 412-415 bp) from 54 exemplar species sampled from all currently recognized subfamilies. The COI data set was found to be highly incongruent with the nuclear data sets and a Partitioned Bremer Support analysis shows that the COI data set largely undermines support for most clades. Transitions at the third codon positions of the COI data set were highly saturated, but analyzing the combined data set with the COI third positions removed did not change the results. The major clades we found are termed the danaine clade (including Danainae), the satyrine clade (including Charaxinae, Satyrinae, Calinaginae, and Morphinae), the heliconiine clade (including Heliconiinae and Limenitidinae excluding Biblidini, Cyrestini, Pseudergolini, and Coeini) and the nymphaline clade (including Nymphalinae, Apaturinae, and Coeini, Cyrestini, Pseudergolini, and Biblidini from Limenitidinae). The heliconiine and nymphaline clades are sister groups, while the most parsimonious explanation for the combined data set places the danaine clade as the most basal large group of Nymphalidae. Our results give one of the strongest hypotheses for the subfamilial relationships within Nymphalidae. We were able to resolve the polyphyletic nature of Limenitidinae, which we recommend to be split into three subfamilies: Limenitidinae, Biblidinae, and Cyrestinae. The tribe Coeini belongs in Nymphalinae.

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