Caribbean butterflies

The Caribbean region is located between North and South America as well as east of Central America. Due to its geographical configuration consisting of thousands of islands, the Caribbean has largely been subject of island biogeography studies. Its proximity to continental landmasses, incredible biota adaptive radiation, as well as the geological history of the region make the Caribbean one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Paleogeographical reconstructions show a very dynamic Caribbean, with ancient land bridges connecting South America to the Greater Antilles, mountain origination during the Neogene (23 to 2.5 million years ago), and island connectivity quite different from what we see nowadays.

The satyrine butterflies are represented in the Caribbean by only one extant genus, Calisto. There are about 40 species in such a group, most of them described during the 20th century. The group apparently had a remarkable diversification, and some authors even proposed adaptive radiation to explain its species richness. Indeed, Munroe (1948) in his independent description of equilibrium island biogeography, 15 years earlier than MacArthur and Wilson’s Equilibrium Theory of Island Biogeography, suggested an elevated speciation rate of the genus Calisto rather than exceptional immigration rate. He even claims that if all but one species of Calisto are subtracted from the total number of the Caribbean butterfly fauna, his correlation between island size – number of species would fall much closer to the semi-logarithmic distribution.

Our projects for the Caribbean satyrines include:

  • The taxonomy and systematics of the Cuban species of Calisto. By using morphological and molecular characters we were able to clarify the taxonomic status of species as well as to infer robust phylogenies. The pattern of diversification seems to involve dispersal from northern Hispaniola to southeastern Cuba when both blocks were much closer some million of years ago. From there, dispersal westwards Cuba might have been facilitated by the closure of the Havana-Matanzas Channel between eastern and central/western Cuba (Núñez Aguila et al., 2012; 2013).

  • Evolutionary history of the genus Calisto. The genus occurs only in the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico) and in the Bahamas. The elucidation of its phylogenetic relationships has given more insights about the origin and biogeography of these butterflies, as well its diversification patterns which mostly confirm some of Munroe’s hypotheses 65 years later. (Submitted).


  • Matos Maraví, P. F., Núñez Aguila, R., Peña, C., Miller, J. Y., Sourakov, A. & Wahlberg, N. 2014: Causes of endemic radiation in the Caribbean: evidence from the historical biogeography and diversification of the butterfly genus Calisto (Nymphalidae: Satyrinae: Satyrini). BMC Evolutionary Biology 14: 199. doi:10.1186/s12862-014-0199-7

  • Núñez Aguila, R., Matos-Maraví, P. F. & Wahlberg, N. 2013: New Calisto species from Cuba, with insights on the relationships of Cuban and Bahamian taxa (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae). Zootaxa 3669: 503-521. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3669.4.5

  • Núñez Aguila, R., Oliva Plasencia, E., Matos Maraví, P. F. & Wahlberg, N. 2012: Cuban Calisto (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae), a review based on morphological and DNA data. ZooKeys 165: 57-105. doi:10.3897/zookeys.165.2206


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