“Evolutionary assembly of communities in butterfly mimicry rings”

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Jahnavi Joshi, Anupama Prakash, and Krushnamegh Kunte

This paper reconstructed evolutionary history of butterfly mimicry rings of the Western Ghats, providing novel insights

Euploea sylvester is a common Batesian model in the Western Ghats.
(Credit: Krushnamegh Kunte)


Species co-occurrence in ecological communities is thought to be influenced by multiple ecological and evolutionary processes, especially colonization and competition. However, effects of other interspecific interactions and evolutionary relationships are less explored. We examined evolutionary histories of community members and roles of mutualistic and parasitic interactions (Müllerian and Batesian mimicry, respectively) in the assembly of mimetic butterfly communities called mimicry rings in tropical forests of the Western Ghats, India. We found that Müllerian mimics were phylogenetically clustered, sharing aposematic signals due to common ancestry. On the other hand, Batesian mimics joined mimicry rings through convergent evolution and random phylogenetic assembly. Since the Western Ghats are a habitat island, we compared species diversity and composition in its mimicry rings with that of habitat mainland to test effects of biogeographic connectivity. The Western Ghats consisted of fewer mimicry rings and an overall smaller number of aposematic species and mimics compared to habitat mainland. The depauperate mimicry rings in the Western Ghats could have resulted from stochastic processes, reflecting their long temporal and spatial isolation and trickling colonization by the mimetic butterfly communities. These results highlight how evolutionary history, biogeographic isolation and stochastic colonization influence the evolutionary assembly and diversity of ecological communities. Read the Article