Phylogenomics provides strong evidence for relationships of butterflies and moths

Akito Y. Kawahara, Jesse W. Breinholt

Abstract

Butterflies and moths constitute some of the most popular and charismatic insects. Lepidoptera include approximately 160 000 described species, many of which are important model organisms. Previous studies on the evolution of Lepidoptera did not confidently place butterflies, and many relationships among superfamilies in the megadiverse clade Ditrysia remain largely uncertain. We generated a molecular dataset with 46 taxa, combining 33 new transcriptomes with 13 available genomes, transcriptomes and expressed sequence tags (ESTs). Using HaMStR with a Lepidoptera-specific core-orthologue set of single copy loci, we identified 2696 genes for inclusion into the phylogenomic analysis. Nucleotides and amino acids of the all-gene, all-taxon dataset yielded nearly identical, well-supported trees. Monophyly of butterflies (Papilionoidea) was strongly supported, and the group included skippers (Hesperiidae) and the enigmatic butterfly–moths (Hedylidae). Butterflies were placed sister to the remaining obtectomeran Lepidoptera, and the latter was grouped with greater than or equal to 87% bootstrap support. Establishing confident relationships among the four most diverse macroheteroceran superfamilies was previously challenging, but we recovered 100% bootstrap support for the following relationships: ((Geometroidea, Noctuoidea), (Bombycoidea, Lasiocampoidea)). We present the first robust, transcriptome-based tree of Lepidoptera that strongly contradicts historical placement of butterflies, and provide an evolutionary framework for genomic, developmental and ecological studies on this diverse insect order.

  • Received April 25, 2014.
  • Accepted June 4, 2014.
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