Phylogenetic discordance at the species boundary: Comparative gene genealogies among rapidly radiating Heliconius butterflies

Margarita Beltrán, Chris D. Jiggins, Vanessa Bull, Mauricio Linares, James Mallet, W. Owen McMillan, Eldredge Bermingham

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch Articlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


Recent adaptive radiations provide excellent model systems for understanding speciation, but rapid diversification can cause problems for phylogenetic inference. Here we use gene genealogies to investigate the phylogeny of recent speciation in the heliconiine butterflies. We sequenced three gene regions, intron 3 (≈550 bp) of sex-linked triosephosphate isomerase (Tpi), intron 3 (≈450 bp) of autosomal mannose-phosphate isomerase (Mpi), and 1,603 bp of mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunits I and II (COI and COII), for 37 individuals from 25 species of Heliconius and related genera. The nuclear intron sequences evolved at rates similar to those of mitochondrial coding sequences, but the phylogenetic utility of introns was restricted to closely related geographic populations and species due to high levels of indel variation. For two sister species pairs, Heliconius erato-Heliconius himera and Heliconius melpomene-Heliconius cydno, there was highly significant discordance between the three genes. At mtDNA and Tpi, the hypotheses of reciprocal monophyly and paraphyly of at least one species with respect to its sister could not be distinguished. In contrast alleles sampled from the third locus, Mpi, showed polyphyletic relationships between both species pairs. In all cases, recent coalescence of mtDNA lineages within species suggests that polyphyly of nuclear genes is not unexpected. In addition, very similar alleles were shared between melpomene and cydno, implying recent gene flow. Our finding of discordant genealogies between genes is consistent with models of adaptive speciation with ongoing gene flow and highlights the need for multiple locus comparisons to resolve phylogeny among closely related species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2176-2190
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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