Skip to main content

Genetic map of European butterflies: Continental-scale cryptic species assessment and comparisons to North America and Australia

Final Report Summary - EUGENMAP (Genetic map of European butterflies: Continental-scale cryptic species assessment and comparisons to North America and Australia)

There is a widely recognized need for a more comprehensive understanding of patterns of global biodiversity. Such information will not only address major scientific issues, such as the factors influencing rates of speciation, but it will also substantially aid conservation programs (a critical need given the looming extinction crisis). The EUGENMAP project exploits the power of DNA barcoding to deliver a synoptic overview of biodiversity patterns, and focuses this analysis on butterflies as a model system because they are the most intensively studied invertebrate group in the world.
EUGENMAP started on 1st of May 2014, through collaboration between the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF) in Barcelona, Spain (IBE) and the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph, Canada (BIO). Its primary goal was to assemble a comprehensive DNA barcode reference library for the European butterflies. Using this as a basis, deeper studies based on multiple sources of data have been planned in order to investigate cases of potential cryptic species or, on the contrary, oversplitting (where one species has been incorrectly split into two or more). Taking advantage of DNA barcode libraries that are being assembled at BIO for the North American and Australian butterfly faunas, EUGENMAP also planned to provide a comparative analysis of the impact of the Quaternary ice ages on the diversification dynamics of butterflies in Europe, North America, and Australia.
Through intensive field work and support from numerous colleagues, EUGENMAP managed to produce a comprehensive DNA barcode library that covers ca. 97% of the European species with an average of over 35 specimens/species (over 18000 DNA barcodes). A part of this library has already been published as an article that DNA barcoded all Iberian butterfly species and compared the data with what was available for the rest of Europe, resulting in a first assessment of potential cryptic diversity in European butterflies. The results suggested that a surprising 27.7% of the 299 species analysed included from two to four evolutionary significant units. Within these, fourteen species displayed deep intraspecific splits of over 2.5%, sometimes with lineages occurring in sympatry, suggesting a high potential for the presence of cryptic species.
EUGENMAP also focused on the deeper study (e.g. nuclear markers, morphometrics, chromosome number, chemical analyses) of some of the most striking cases of potential cryptic diversity detected through DNA barcodes. As a result, a study documenting a new species for science in the European butterfly fauna (Spialia genus) has been published and others on Thymelicus sylvestris and Melitaea didyma are being prepared, the latter two using next generation sequencing (RAD-seq).
A series of other studies dealing with the phylogeography, chromosomal evolution, distribution and conservation of European butterflies have also been published through the contribution of EUGENMAP. The number of studies currently published with the contribution of EUGENMAP is 14 and several others are submitted or under preparation.
Results of this project have also been included in talks and posters (24 in total) at 14 national and international conferences, while outreach activity involved, among others, interviews for two magazines, a popular science article and the organization of several photo exhibitions.
Through the DNA barcode library assembled, EUGENMAP provides a high resolution map of mitochondrial DNA diversity for European butterflies. This dataset represents a very valuable resource and has numerous applications ranging from highlighting incongruences with current taxonomy, to the identification of lineages and geographic areas of conservation concern. The dataset gathered enables comparisons with the North American and Australian butterfly faunas, which are already being analysed. Thus, because of the large-scale and because of the modern, multidisciplinary approaches, the EUGENMAP project represents a major advance in the global study of biodiversity and a model for implementation on other taxonomic groups.

Related documents