A molecular phylogeny for the leaf-roller moths (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) and its implications for classification and life history evolution

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35574. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035574. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


Background: Tortricidae, one of the largest families of microlepidopterans, comprise about 10,000 described species worldwide, including important pests, biological control agents and experimental models. Understanding of tortricid phylogeny, the basis for a predictive classification, is currently provisional. We present the first detailed molecular estimate of relationships across the tribes and subfamilies of Tortricidae, assess its concordance with previous morphological evidence, and re-examine postulated evolutionary trends in host plant use and biogeography.

Methodology/principal findings: We sequenced up to five nuclear genes (6,633 bp) in each of 52 tortricids spanning all three subfamilies and 19 of the 22 tribes, plus up to 14 additional genes, for a total of 14,826 bp, in 29 of those taxa plus all 14 outgroup taxa. Maximum likelihood analyses yield trees that, within Tortricidae, differ little among data sets and character treatments and are nearly always strongly supported at all levels of divergence. Support for several nodes was greatly increased by the additional 14 genes sequenced in just 29 of 52 tortricids, with no evidence of phylogenetic artifacts from deliberately incomplete gene sampling. There is strong support for the monophyly of Tortricinae and of Olethreutinae, and for grouping of these to the exclusion of Chlidanotinae. Relationships among tribes are robustly resolved in Tortricinae and mostly so in Olethreutinae. Feeding habit (internal versus external) is strongly conserved on the phylogeny. Within Tortricinae, a clade characterized by eggs being deposited in large clusters, in contrast to singly or in small batches, has markedly elevated incidence of polyphagous species. The five earliest-branching tortricid lineages are all species-poor tribes with mainly southern/tropical distributions, consistent with a hypothesized Gondwanan origin for the family.

Conclusions/significance: We present the first robustly supported phylogeny for Tortricidae, and a revised classification in which all of the sampled tribes are now monophyletic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Insect
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Moths / classification*
  • Moths / genetics*
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Phylogeny*