Population genetics of ecological communities with DNA barcodes: An example from New Guinea Lepidoptera

Kathleen J. Craft, Steffen U. Pauls, Karolyn Darrow, Scott E. Miller, Paul D.N. Hebert, Lauren E. Helgen, Vojtech Novotny, George D. Weiblen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Comparative population genetics of ecological guilds can reveal generalities in patterns of differentiation bearing on hypotheses regarding the origin and maintenance of community diversity. Contradictory estimates of host specificity and beta diversity in tropical Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) from New Guinea and the Americas have sparked debate on the role of host-associated divergence and geographic isolation in explaining latitudinal diversity gradients. We sampled haplotypes of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I from 28 Lepidoptera species and 1,359 individuals across four host plant genera and eight sites in New Guinea to estimate population divergence in relation to host specificity and geography. Analyses of molecular variance and haplotype networks indicate varyingpatterns ofgenetic structure among ecologically similar sympatric species. One-quarter lacked evidence of isolation by distance or host-associated differentiation, whereas 21% exhibited both. Fourteen percent of the species exhibited host-associated differentiation without geographic isolation,18% showed the opposite, and 21% were equivocal, insofar as analyses of molecular variance and haplotype networks yielded incongruent patterns. Variation in dietary breadth among community members suggests that speciation by specialization is an important, but not universal, mechanism for diversification of tropical Lepidoptera. Geographically widespread haplotypes challenge predictions of vicariance biogeography.Dispersal is important, and Lepidoptera communities appear to be highly dynamic according to the various phylogeographic histories of component species. Population genetic comparisons among herbivores of major tropical and temperate regions are needed to test predictions of ecological theory and evaluate global patterns of biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5041-5046
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 16 2010


  • Community ecology
  • DNA barcoding
  • Phylogeography
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • Speciation

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