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Comparative population genetics of mimetic Heliconius butterflies in an endangered habitat; Brazil's Atlantic Forest

Author(s): Albuquerque de Moura Priscila | Quek Swee-Peck | Cardoso Márcio | Kronforst Marcus

Journal: BMC Genetics
ISSN 1471-2156

Volume: 12;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 9;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Abstract Background Brazil's Atlantic Forest is a biodiversity hotspot endangered by severe habitat degradation and fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation is expected to reduce dispersal among habitat patches resulting in increased genetic differentiation among populations. Here we examined genetic diversity and differentiation among populations of two Heliconius butterfly species in the northern portion of Brazil's Atlantic Forest to estimate the potential impact of habitat fragmentation on population connectivity in butterflies with home-range behavior. Results We generated microsatellite, AFLP and mtDNA sequence data for 136 Heliconius erato specimens from eight collecting locations and 146 H. melpomene specimens from seven locations. Population genetic analyses of the data revealed high levels of genetic diversity in H. erato relative to H. melpomene, widespread genetic differentiation among populations of both species, and no evidence for isolation-by-distance. Conclusions These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the extensive habitat fragmentation along Brazil's Atlantic Forest has reduced dispersal of Heliconius butterflies among neighboring habitat patches. The results also lend support to the observation that fine-scale population genetic structure may be common in Heliconius. If such population structure also exists independent of human activity, and has been common over the evolutionary history of Heliconius butterflies, it may have contributed to the evolution of wing pattern diversity in the genus.
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