The phylogenetic pattern of speciation and wing pattern change in neotropical Ithomia butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)

Chris D. Jiggins, Ricardo Mallarino, Keith R. Willmott, Eldredge Bermingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Species level phylogenetic hypotheses can be used to explore patterns of divergence and speciation. In the tropics, speciation is commonly attributed to either vicariance, perhaps within climate-induced forest refugia, or ecological speciation caused by niche adaptation. Mimetic butterflies have been used to identify forest refugia as well as in studies of ecological speciation, so they are ideal for discriminating between these two models. The genus Ithomia contains 24 species of warningly colored mimetic butterflies found in South and Central America, and here we use a phylogenetic hypothesis based on seven genes for 23 species to investigate speciation in this group. The history of wing color pattern evolution in the genus was reconstructed using both parsimony and likelihood. The ancestral pattern for the group was almost certainly a transparent butterfly, and there is strong evidence for convergent evolution due to mimicry. A punctuationist model of pattern evolution was a significantly better fit to the data than a gradualist model, demonstrating that pattern changes above the species level were associated with cladogenesis and supporting a model of ecological speciation driven by mimicry adaptation. However, there was only one case of sister species unambiguously differing in pattern, suggesting that some recent speciation events have occurred without pattern shifts. The pattern of geographic overlap between clades over time shows that closely related species are mostly sympatric or, in one case, parapatric. This is consistent with modes of speciation with ongoing gene flow, although rapid range changes following allopatric speciation could give a similar pattern. Patterns of lineage accumulation through time differed significantly from that expected at random, and show that most of the extant species were present by the beginning of the Pleistocene at the latest. Hence Pleistocene refugia are unlikely to have played a major role in Ithomia diversification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1454-1466
Number of pages13
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Comparative analysis
  • Lepidoptera
  • Mimicry
  • Pleistocene refugia
  • Speciation


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