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Phylogenetics and biogeography of a spectacular Old World radiation of butterflies: the subtribe Mycalesina (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrini)

Ullasa Kodandaramaiah1*, David C Lees23, Chris J Müller4, Elizabeth Torres5, K Praveen Karanth6 and Niklas Wahlberg17

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London, UK

3 Centre de Recherche d' Orléans, INRA, UR 633 Zoologie Forestière, F-45075, Orléans, France

4 Molecular Ecology Lab, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia

5 Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Los Angeles, CA 90032 USA

6 Center for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, India

7 Laboratory of Genetics, Department of Biology, University of Turku, 20014 Turku, Finland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-172

Published: 10 June 2010



Butterflies of the subtribe Mycalesina (Nymphalidae: Satyrinae) are important model organisms in ecology and evolution. This group has radiated spectacularly in the Old World tropics and presents an exciting opportunity to better understand processes of invertebrate rapid radiations. However, the generic-level taxonomy of the subtribe has been in a constant state of flux, and relationships among genera are unknown. There are six currently recognized genera in the group. Mycalesis, Lohora and Nirvanopsis are found in the Oriental region, the first of which is the most speciose genus among mycalesines, and extends into the Australasian region. Hallelesis and Bicyclus are found in mainland Africa, while Heteropsis is primarily Madagascan, with a few species in Africa. We infer the phylogeny of the group with data from three genes (total of 3139 bp) and use these data to reconstruct events in the biogeographic history of the group.


The results indicate that the group Mycalesina radiated rapidly around the Oligocene-Miocene boundary. Basal relationships are unresolved, but we recover six well-supported clades. Some species of Mycalesis are nested within a primarily Madagascan clade of Heteropsis, while Nirvanopsis is nested within Lohora. The phylogeny suggests that the group had its origin either in Asia or Africa, and diversified through dispersals between the two regions, during the late Oligocene and early Miocene. The current dataset tentatively suggests that the Madagascan fauna comprises two independent radiations. The Australasian radiation shares a common ancestor derived from Asia. We discuss factors that are likely to have played a key role in the diversification of the group.


We propose a significantly revised classification scheme for Mycalesina. We conclude that the group originated and radiated from an ancestor that was found either in Asia or Africa, with dispersals between the two regions and to Australasia. Our phylogeny paves the way for further comparative studies on this group that will help us understand the processes underlying diversification in rapid radiations of invertebrates.