Cryptic speciation associated with geographic and ecological divergence in two Amazonian Heliconius butterflies

Neil Rosser, André V.L. Freitas, Blanca Huertas, Mathieu Joron, Gerardo Lamas, Claire Mérot, Fraser Simpson, Keith R. Willmott, James Mallet, Kanchon K. Dasmahapatra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The evolution of reproductive isolation via a switch in mimetic wing coloration has become the paradigm for speciation in aposematic Heliconius butterflies. Here, we provide a counterexample to this, by documenting two cryptic species within the taxon formerly considered Heliconius demeter Staudinger, 1897. Amplified fragment length polymorphisms identify two sympatric genotypic clusters in northern Peru, corresponding to subspecies Heliconius demeter ucayalensis H. Holzinger & R. Holzinger, 1975 and Heliconius demeter joroni ssp. nov. These subspecies are reciprocally monophyletic for the mitochondrial genes COI and COII and the nuclear gene Ef1α, and exhibit marked differences in larval morphology and host plant use. COI sequences from 13 of the 15 currently recognized subspecies show that mtDNA differences are reflected across the range of H. demeter, with a deep phylogenetic split between the southern and northern Amazonian races. As such, our data suggest vicariant speciation driven by disruptive selection for larval performance on different host plants. We raise Heliconius demeter eratosignis (Joicey & Talbot, 1925) to Heliconius eratosignis based on nomenclatural priority, a species also comprising H. eratosignis ucayalensis comb. nov. and three other southern Amazonian races. Heliconius demeter joroni spp. nov. remains within H. demeter s.s., along with northern Amazonian and Guianan subspecies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-249
Number of pages17
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 May 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.


  • butterflies
  • cryptic species
  • genotypic clusters
  • host plant shift
  • integrative taxonomy
  • mimicry
  • vicariant speciation


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