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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Punctuational ecological changes rather than global factors drive species diversification and the evolution of wing phenotypes in Morpho butterflies

Chazot, Nicolas; Blandin, Patrick; Debat, Vincent; Elias, Marianne; Condamine, Fabien L.


Assessing the relative importance of geographical and ecological drivers of evolution is paramount to understand the diversification of species and traits at the macroevolutionary scale. Here, we use an integrative approach, combining phylogenetics, biogeography, ecology and quantified phenotypes to investigate the drivers of both species and phenotypic diversification of the iconic Neotropical butterfly genus Morpho. We generated a time-calibrated phylogeny for all known species and inferred historical biogeography. We fitted models of time-dependent (accounting for rate heterogeneity across the phylogeny) and paleoenvironment-dependent diversification (accounting for global effect on the phylogeny). We used geometric morphometrics to assess variation of wing size and shape across the tree and investigated their dynamics of evolution. We found that the diversification of Morpho is best explained when considering variable diversification rates across the tree, possibly associated with lineages occupying different microhabitat conditions. First, a shift from understory to canopy was characterized by an increased speciation rate partially coupled with an increasing rate of wing shape evolution. Second, the occupation of dense bamboo thickets accompanying a major host-plant shift from dicotyledons towards monocotyledons was associated with a simultaneous diversification rate shift and an evolutionary 'jump' of wing size. Our study points to a diversification pattern driven by punctuational ecological changes instead of a global driver or biogeographic history.


butterflies; geometric morphometrics; Morpho; phenotypic diversification; species diversification; wing shape; wing size

Published in

Journal of Evolutionary Biology
2021, Volume: 34, number: 10, pages: 1592-1607
Publisher: WILEY

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Evolutionary Biology

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