Taxonomy, mimicry and biogeography in the Ithomiinae

The Ithomiinae are a highly diverse group of closely related taxa numbering about 320 species.  They are almost exclusively neotropical, with the peak of diversity occurring on the Eastern slopes of the Andes.  Many species are llerian mimics.

Melinaea menophilus zaneka (left) and Godyris duillia (right) on flowers of Guraniavine (Cucurbitaceae).  Río Abanico, Ecuador.
Used by permission from Andrew Neild © 2000

Our group is involved in a world-wide collaboration studying taxonomy, systematics and biogeography of Ithomiinae.  Keith Willmott, in the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, is funded by a Leverhulme grant for basic taxonomic research and comparative studies of the evolution of mimicry, in collaboration with Gerardo Lamas (Lima), Keith S. Brown jr., André Freitas and José Trigo (Campinas), and Andrew Brower (Oregon).

As well as helping to produce systematic treatments and estimates of phylogeny of the whole group at species level, Keith Willmott is concentrating on the genera Pteronymia and Oleria. Molecular work on the higher level phylogeny of Ithomiinae is being done by Andrew Brower's group. Alaine Whinnett at UCL is using molecular methods to study species-level phylogeny and biogeography in the tribes Ithomiini, Oleriini and Dircennini.  Another collaboator, now living in Tarapoto, Peru, is Stéphanie Gallusser (Neuchâtel), who did her PhD on hybridization and host plant ecology in the ithomiine genus Oleria.  Another collaborator, Mathieu Joron is currently also working on Heliconius and ithomiine butterflies in the area.

The Tarapoto area of Peru, with its high local diversity of heliconiine and ithomiine species and geographic forms and multiple contact zones, offers a rare chance to document suture zones and biogeography on a close-up scale.  We are therefore focusing on this area for molecular and ecological studies.  A list of species of heliconiine and ithomiine butterflies studied, with links to photographs and distribution data is available (Mathieu Joron's ithomiine site shows the mimictry extremely well) as part of the ongoing taxonomy/biogeography/molecular evolution project.

See also Bill Haber's excellent pages on Ithomiinae of Monteverde, Costa Rica, part of his website on the Natural History of Monteverde.

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