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Phylogenetic codivergence supports coevolution of mimetic Heliconius butterflies

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The unpalatable and warning-patterned butterflies Heliconius erato and Heliconius melpomene provide the best studied example of mutualistic Müllerian mimicry, thought-but rarely demonstrated-to promote coevolution. Some of the strongest available evidence for coevolution comes from phylogenetic codivergence, the parallel divergence of ecologically associated lineages. Early evolutionary reconstructions suggested codivergence between mimetic populations of H. erato and H. melpomene, and this was initially hailed as one of the most striking known cases of coevolution. However, subsequent molecular phylogenetic analyses found discrepancies in phylogenetic branching patterns and timing (topological and temporal incongruence) that argued against codivergence. We present the first explicit cophylogenetic test of codivergence between mimetic populations of H. erato and H. melpomene, and re-examine the timing of these radiations. We find statistically significant topological congruence between multilocus coalescent population phylogenies of H. erato and H. melpomene. Cophylogenetic historical reconstructions support repeated codivergence of mimetic populations, from the base of the sampled radiations. Pairwise distance correlation tests, based on our coalescent analyses plus recently published AFLP and wing colour pattern gene data, also suggest that the phylogenies of H. erato and H. melpomene show significant topological congruence. Divergence time estimates, based on a Bayesian coalescent model, suggest that the evolutionary radiations of H. erato and H. melpomene occurred over the same time period, and are compatible with a series of temporally congruent codivergence events. Our results suggest that differences in within-species genetic divergence are the result of a greater overall effective population size for H. erato relative to H. melpomene and do not imply incongruence in the timing of their phylogenetic radiations. Repeated codivergence between Müllerian co-mimics, predicted to exert mutual selection pressures, strongly suggests coevolution. Our results therefore support a history of reciprocal coevolution between Müllerian co-mimics characterised by phylogenetic codivergence and parallel phenotypic change. © 2012 Hoyal Cuthill and Charleston.




Hoyal Cuthill, J., & Charleston, M. (2012). Phylogenetic codivergence supports coevolution of mimetic Heliconius butterflies. PLoS ONE, 7(5).

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