Geography shapes the microbial community in Heliconius butterflies

Nicolás Luna, Giovanny Herrera, Marina Muñoz, Melissa Sánchez-Herrera, Anya Brown, Emily Khazan, Carolina Pardo-Diaz, Juan David Ramírez, Camilo Salazar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Heliconius butterflies are an ideal organism for studying ecology, behavior, adaptation, and speciation. These butterflies can be found in various locations and habitats in Central and South America, where they encounter and interact with different sources of pollen, nectar, and host plants. However, there is limited knowledge on how geographic and habitat variations affect the microbiota of these insects, and whether microbial associates play a role in their ability to exploit different habitats. To date, research on the microbial communities associated with Heliconius has mainly focused on host phylogenetic signal in microbiomes or microbiome characterization in specific communities of butterflies. In this study, we characterized the microbiomes of several species and populations of Heliconius from distant locations that represent contrasting environments. We found that the microbiota of different Heliconius species is taxonomically similar but vary in abundance. Notably, this variation is associated with a major geographic barrier-the Central Cordillera of Colombia. Additionally, we confirmed that this microbiota is not associated with pollen-feeding. Therefore, it seems likely that geography shapes the abundance of microbiota that the butterfly carries, but not the taxonomic diversity of the microbial community. Based on the current evidence, the bacterial microbiota associated with Heliconius does not appear to play a beneficial role for these butterflies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 23 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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