Marabuto, E., Nunes, M.S., Martins, R., Mendes, R., Moreira-Pinhal, T.C., Raimundo, J., Seabra, S.G. & Paulo, O.S. (2023) Integrative analysis reveals the divergence and speciation between sister sooty copper butterflies Lycaena bleusei and L. tityrus.Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 180, 107699. DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2022.107699 (IF2022 4,1; Q1 Evolutionary Biology)
The comparison of closely related taxa is cornerstone in biology, as understanding mechanisms leading up to differentiation in relation to extant shared characters are powerful tools in interpreting the evolutionary process. Hotspots of biodiversity such as the west-Mediterranean, where many lineages meet are ideal grounds to study these processes. We set to explore the interesting example of Sooty Copper butterflies: widespread Eurasian Lycaena tityrus (Poda, 1761) comes into contact in Iberia with closely related and local endemic, L. bleusei (Oberthür, 1884), which hasn’t always been considered a distinct species. An integrative analysis was designed, combining the use of extensive molecular data (five genes), geometric morphometrics analyses, verified and up-to-date distribution data, and environmental niche modelling, aimed at deciphering their true relationship, their placement within European Lycaena and trace their evolutionary history. We revealed several levels of differentiation: L. bleusei and L. tityrus appear to be reciprocally monophyletic independent gene-pools, distinct in all genes analysed, having mutually diverged 4.8 Ma ago. L. tityrus but not L. bleusei, further displays a genetic structure compatible with several glacial refugia, where populations assignable to infraspecific taxa surface. Conversely, L. bleusei shows a loss in mtDNA diversity in relation to nuDNA. Morphological analyses differentiate both species according to size and shape but also discriminate strong seasonal and sexual traits and a geographical phenotype segregation in L. tityrus. Finally, updated distribution and its modelling for current and glacial timeframes reveal both species respond differently to environmental variables, defining a mostly parapatric distribution and an overlapping belt where sympatry was recovered. During the last glacial maximum, a wider expansion in L. bleusei distribution explains current isolated populations. Our study highlights the importance of gathering several lines of evidence when deciphering the relationships between closely related populations in the fringe of cryptic species realm.