Anthropogenic pressures coincide with Neotropical biodiversity hotspots in a flagship butterfly group

Maël Doré, Keith Willmott, Boris Leroy, Nicolas Chazot, James Mallet, André V.L. Freitas, Jason P.W. Hall, Gerardo Lamas, Kanchon K. Dasmahapatra, Colin Fontaine, Marianne Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Aim: The biodiversity crisis has highlighted the need to assess and map biodiversity in order to prioritize conservation efforts. Clearwing butterflies (tribe Ithomiini) have been proposed as biological indicators for habitat quality in Neotropical forests, which contain the world's richest biological communities. Here, we provide maps of different facets of Ithomiini diversity across the Neotropics to identify areas of evolutionary and ecological importance for conservation and evaluate their overlap with current anthropogenic threats. Location: Neotropics. Methods: We ran species distribution models on a data set based on 28,986 georeferenced occurrences representing 388 ithomiine species to generate maps of geographic rarity, taxonomic, phylogenetic and Müllerian mimetic wing pattern diversity. We quantified and mapped the overlap of diversity hotspots with areas threatened by or providing refuge from current anthropogenic pressures. Results: The eastern slopes of the Andes formed the primary hotspot of taxonomic, phylogenetic and mimetic diversity, with secondary hotspots in Central America and the Atlantic Forest. Most diversity indices were strongly spatially correlated. Nevertheless, species-poor communities on the Pacific slopes of the Andes also sheltered some of the geographically rarest species. Overall, tropical montane forests that host high species and mimetic diversity as well as rare species and mimicry rings appeared particularly under threat. Main conclusions: Remote parts of the Upper Amazon may act as refuges against current anthropogenic pressures for a limited portion of Ithomiini diversity. Furthermore, it is likely that the current threat status may worsen with ongoing climate change and deforestation. In this context, the tropical Andes occupy a crucial position as the primary hotspot for multiple facets of biodiversity for ithomiine butterflies, as they do for angiosperms, tetrapods and other insect taxa. Our results support the role of ithomiine butterflies as a suitable flagship indicator group for Neotropical butterfly diversity and reinforce the position of the tropical Andes as a flagship region for biodiversity conservation in general, and insect and butterfly conservation in particular.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiversity and Distributions
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest, or non‐financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript. MD is financed by the French Ministry of Research (MENSR). We thank the museum curators who allowed us to examine the Ithomiini collections under their care and individuals who provided access to or shared information from their private collections or fieldwork, including Keith S. Brown Jr., Eric Quinter, Allan & Lesley Wolhuter, Steven Heydon, Jeff & Cathy Smith, Lynn Kimsey, John Rawlins, Olaf Mielke, Mirna Casagrande, Chris Jiggins, Fabio Vitale, Jackie Miller, Andy Warren, Andrei Sourakov, Francisco Piñas, Gerrit ten Broek, Santiago Villamarín, Jamie Radford, Jean‐François Le Crom, Jean‐Claude Petit, Wolfram Mey, Miguel Monné, Tomasz Pyrcz, Phil Ackery, Blanca Huertas, George McGavin, Pierre Boyer, Fernanda Checa, Sebastián Padrón, Heinz Schröder, Christoph Häuser, Bob Robbins, Don Harvey, Brian Harris, Axel Hausmann, Lisa de Silva, Melanie McClure and Paola Santacruz. We thank S. Villamarín, S. Nogales, the INABIO and Ecuadorian Ministerio del Ambiente for arranging the necessary permits for research in Ecuador, most recently under the project ‘Diversity and Biology of Lepidoptera in Ecuador’ (No. 006‐19 IC‐FLO‐FAU‐DNB/MA). Museum and fieldwork in Ecuador were funded in part by the Leverhulme Trust, the Darwin Initiative, the FLMNH Museum Associates, the National Geographic Society (Research and Exploration Grant # 5751‐96) and NSF (# 0103746, #0639977, #0639861, #0847582, #1256742). We thank the INRENA/SERFOR for arranging the necessary permits for research in Peru. We thank the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio) for providing a research permit in Brazil (SISBIO no. 10802‐5). Brazilian species are registered at the Sistema Nacional de Gestão do Patrimônio Genético e do Conhecimento Tradicional Associado (SisGen – AD7B279, AD23304, ACCDE4A, A33D8D7, ADF1F75, A37A48D). ME acknowledges funding by the ANR grant CLEARWING (ANR‐16‐CE02‐0012) and a Human Frontier Science Program grant (RGP0014/2016). AVLF acknowledges the FAPESP (Biota‐FAPESP grants 2011/50225‐3, 2012/50260‐6 and 2013/50297‐0), the Brazilian CNPq (563332/2010‐7 and 303834/2015‐3) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) under the PEER program (Mapping and Conserving Butterfly Biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon—Sponsor Grant Award Number: AID‐OAA‐A‐11‐00012). For their companionship and assistance in the field, we thank Julia and Jamie Robinson Willmott, Alexandre Toporov, Raúl Aldaz, and Ismael Aldas. We thank the numerous people who contributed to databasing museum specimens, particularly Fraser Simpson. Models were run with the support of the computer cluster ‘Plateforme Calcul Intensif Algorithmique’ (UMS2700‐PCIA) of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle MNHN.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Diversity and Distributions published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • anthropogenic pressures
  • biodiversity hotspots
  • geographic rarity
  • Human Footprint
  • human impacts
  • Ithomiini butterflies
  • Müllerian mimicry
  • phylogenetic diversity
  • species richness


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