The anatomy of a 'suture zone' in Amazonian butterflies: A coalescent-based test for vicariant geographic divergence and speciation

Kanchon K. Dasmahapatra, Gerardo Lamas, Fraser Simpson, James Mallet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Attempts by biogeographers to understand biotic diversification in the Amazon have often employed contemporary species distribution patterns to support particular theories, such as Pleistocene rainforest refugia, rather than to test among alternative hypotheses. Suture zones, narrow regions where multiple contact zones and hybrid zones between taxa cluster, have been seen as evidence for past expansion of whole biotas that have undergone allopatric divergence in vicariant refuges. We used coalescent analysis of mutilocus sequence data to examine population split times in 22 pairs of geminate taxa in ithomiine and heliconiine butterflies. We test a hypothesis of simultaneous divergence across a suture zone in NE Peru. Our results reveal a scattered time course of diversification in this suture zone, rather than a tight cluster of split times. Additionally, we find rapid diversification within some lineages such as Melinaea contrasting with older divergence within lineages such as the Oleriina (Hyposcada and Oleria). These results strongly reject simple vicariance as a cause of the suture zone. At the same time, observed lineage effects are incompatible with a series of geographically coincident vicariant events which should affect all lineages similarly. Our results suggest that Pleistocene climatic forcing cannot readily explain this Peruvian suture zone. Lineage-specific biological traits, such as characteristic distances of gene flow or varying rates of parapatric divergence, may be of greater importance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4283-4301
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • coalescent theory
  • Heliconius
  • Ithomiini
  • phylogeography
  • Pleistocene refuges
  • speciation


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