Daniel Rubinoff, entomologist and director of the University of Hawaii Insect Museum, said the new study will help scientists conclusively pinpoint where butterflies belong in evolutionary history -- a question that has long troubled researchers.
"This study adds to a growing body of knowledge by bringing new techniques to the table and conclusively demonstrating the evolutionary relationships of the most popular insects on the planet," Rubinoff said. "The methods are novel and build on previous work. This is clearly the future of deep-level evolutionary research."
The wispy, delicate nature of butterflies and moths is part of their charm, but their soft-bodied larval stages have posed a problem for scientists studying them in the fossil record. In the current study, scientists aimed to better understand an evolutionary history that morphological analysis and the fossil record has fallen short of firmly establishing, said Jesse Breinholt, co-author and a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum.
"The few Lepidoptera fossils we have are from about 15 million years ago," Breinholt said. "The next step is to create a dated evolutionary history for the group, from the earliest ancestors to present day."
Previous research based on anatomical features hypothesized that butterflies are close relatives of large moths, but the new tree suggests butterflies are more closely related to small (micro) moths, Kawahara said. The study also suggests butterflies are the ancestral group to the tens of thousands of moth species on the planet, and the Hedylidae family, commonly known as American butterfly-moths, were dismis
|Contact: Akito Kawahara|
University of Florida