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

12 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

Funding Information:
We thank NERC (NE/K012886/1) and BBSRC (BB/ G006903/1) for funding this work. We also thank SERFOR and the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture for collecting permits (288-2009-AG-DGFFS-DGEFFS, 0148-2011-AG-DGFFS-DGEFFS, 0289-2014-MINAGRI-DGFFS/DGEFFS), as well as the ACR Cordillera Escalera (020-014/GRSM/ PEHCBM/DMA/ACR-CE, 040-2015/GRSM/ PEHCBM/DMA/ACR-CE). We are grateful for discussions with Walter Neukirchen on this work. NR is very grateful to Ronald Mori Pezo for support in the field and his observations on the natural history of these species. Tamara M. C. Aguiar helped by spreading old specimens from Unicamp and Augusto H. B. Rosa helped photograph each specimen. Juan Grados photographed the holotype of Heliconius demeter joroni ssp. nov. We also thank Keith S. Brown Jr. and Eurides Furtado for kindly sharing pictures, specimens and unpublished information. Brazilian specimens are registered in the SISGEN (AACC442). AVLF acknowledges support from FAPESP (Biota-Fapesp – grants 2011/50225-3 and 2012/50260–6), from the Brazilian Research Council – CNPq (fellowship 303834/2015-3), from the National Science Foundation (DEB-1256742) and from USAID (Mapping and Conserving Butterfly Biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon - PEER Cycle 4–478).

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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