Neotropical butterflies

The Neotropics is a biogeographic region that broadly comprises the entire Latin America. Because of its geography consisting of lowlands (e.g. the Amazonia or the Gran Chaco), mountains (e.g. the Andes, the tepuies or the southeastern Brazil highlands) and archipelagos (e.g. the Galápagos Islands), as well as its mostly tropical location, the region includes several climate types and ecoregions.

Its geological history, especially during the Neogene and the Quaternary (the last 20 million years ago), had a remarkable impact on the evolution of neotropical species. Events such as the major uplift of the Andes, the closure of the Isthmus of Panamá, the very dynamic lacustrine-fluvial system (e.g. the 1-million-km2 paleo-lake Pebas or the establishment of the Amazon river), and the Pleistocene Ice Ages, altered the composition and distribution of organisms.

Just in the Neotropics there exists more than 7700 species of butterflies (about 40% of the world butterfly diversity), and estimates of total number of species in the region vary between 8400 and 8700. Yet, the taxonomy, systematics and evolutionary history of several butterfly groups are poorly understood.

Our projects for the Neotropical realm have been mostly funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship, and include:

  • Systematics and species delimitation of butterflies in the tribe Haeterini (Satyrinae). Many of these charismatic insects have transparent wings as well as bright-colored patches on the wings surface. The phylogenetic relationships within the group were not completely clear, and we aimed to provide important insights using molecular information. (Matos-Maraví et al., 2019).
  • The clarification of the systematics of the tribe Brassolini (Satyrinae). This is a species rich group, consisting of more than 100 species distributed throughout the Neotropical region. We use both a large molecular alignment and morphological matrix (250 characters) to better understand the evolutionary history of the group. We aim to clarify dispersal and diversification patterns in major Neotropical biomes, such as Amazonia, Atlantic forest and Mesoamerica (Matos-Maraví et al., in preparation).
  • Elucidation of the evolutionary history of the “Taygetis clade”. The major uplift of the Andes apparently favored the diversification of the group, as well as possible host plant shifts and dispersal from southeastern Brazil towards the Andes may have been important in butterfly biogeography (Matos-Maraví et al., 2013).

Selected publications

  • Matos-Maraví, P., Wahlberg, N., Antonelli, A., Penz, C. M. 2019: Species limits in butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): Reconciling classical taxonomy with the multispecies coalescent. Systematic Entomology, in press. doi: 10.1111/syen.12352. open access
  • Antonelli, A., Ariza, M., Albert, J., Andermann, T., Azevedo, J., Bacon, C., Faurby, S., Guedes, T., Hoorn, C., Lohmann, L. G., Matos-Maraví, P., Ritter, C. D., Sanmartín, I., Silvestro, D., Tejedor, M., ter Steege, H., Tuomisto, H., Werneck, F. P., Zizka, A., Edwards, S. V. 2018: Conceptual and empirical advances in Neotropical biodiversity research. PeerJ, 6: e5644. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5644. open access
  • Matos-Maraví, P. 2016: Investigating the timing of origin and evolutionary processes shaping regional species diversity: Insights from simulated data and Neotropical butterfly diversification rates. Evolution, 70(7): 1638-1650. doi:10.1111/evo.12960
  • Matos-Maraví, P. F., Peña, C., Willmott, K. R., Freitas, A. V. L., Wahlberg, N. 2013: Systematics and evolutionary history of butteflies in the “Taygetis clade” (Nymphalidae: Satyrinae: Euptychiina): towards a better understanding of Neotropical biogeography. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66(1): 54-68. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2012.09.005

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020
research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 704035

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