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Biogeography and the evolution of flightlessness in a radiation of Hawaiian moths (Xyloryctidae: Thyrocopa)

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Abstract Aim 

Although the ability to fly confers benefits to most insects, some taxa have become secondarily flightless. Insect flightlessness may be more likely to evolve in environments such as islands and other windswept and alpine areas, but this prediction has rarely been tested while controlling for phylogenetic effects. Here we present a phylogeny for the endemic Hawaiian Lepidoptera genus Thyrocopa, which has two flightless species that occur in alpine areas on Maui and Hawaii islands, in order to determine whether the flightless species are sister to each other or represent separate losses of flight. We also explore divergence times and biogeographic patterns of inter-island colonization in Thyrocopa, and present the first Hawaiian study to sample a genus from nine islands. Location 

The Hawaiian Islands. Methods 

The phylogeny is composed of 70 individuals (including 23 Thyrocopa species and 7 outgroup species) sequenced for portions of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, elongation factor 1α and wingless genes, for a total of 1964 base pairs, and was estimated using both parsimony (paup*) and Bayesian inference (MrBayes). Divergence times were estimated using thebeastsoftware package. Results 

Our results indicate that two independent invasions of alpine habitats with concomitant loss of flight have occurred in Thyrocopa. Based on current taxon sampling, Thyrocopa colonized the Hawaiian Islands slightly before the formation of Kauai. In terms of overall patterns of diversification, subclades generally follow a progression from older to younger islands. The genus has the greatest number of species on Kauai, with species numbers generally decreasing with decreasing island age. Main conclusions 

Loss of flight ability has evolved twice in a short period of geological time in Thyrocopa, perhaps as a result of low temperatures, high winds and/or a lack of predation pressure. However, several other Thyrocopa species that live on small islands with consistently high winds, such as Necker and Nihoa islands, retain the ability to fly.

Keywords: Dispersal; Gelechioidea; Kahoolawe; Necker; Nihoa; Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; flightless insects; island evolution; phylogeny

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Environmental Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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