, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 39-50,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 24 Mar 2011

Population isolation rather than ecological variation explains the genetic structure of endangered myrmecophilous butterfly Phengaris (=Maculinea) arion


Genetic variation of the globally threatened obligatorily myrmecophilous Large Blue butterfly Phengaris (Maculinea) arion (Lepidoptera) was studied, using six microsatellite markers, in a country where its decline is dramatic (Poland). Material was collected on 13 sites showing considerable ecological variation as far as biotope, larval food plant and host ants of the butterfly were concerned. Genetic variability, estimated in terms of number of alleles and heterozygosity, was the lowest in the most isolated populations. However on sites localized in areas where suitable biotopes were extensive and interconnected, P. arion still held relatively high genetic diversity. Pairwise F ST values indicated small and moderate differentiation among samples (F ST = 0.01–0.15), with the exceptions of two isolated localities (0.20). We did not find clear evidence of isolation by distance. The presence of four or five genetic clusters was indicated. Analysis of the membership of each individual to each cluster showed that the vast majority of individuals from three isolated populations were clustered in three separate genetic groups. The most distinct population was the one, which had been found to be specialized towards Myrmica lobicornis in previous studies. Individuals from the remaining populations could not be clustered in separate genetic groups, however some dominance of different clusters in geographical regions was observed. Some portion of the population’s genetic variability could be explained by geographical distribution, however the percentage of variation, explaining the differences between two main regions (S and NE Poland), was very low. We conclude that the main factor shaping the current genetic structure of P. arion in Poland is the recent isolation of populations related to habitat fragmentation but local ecological specializations may be also a potential factor. Therefore the necessity of activities aiming to halt the further reduction of genetic variability, as well as the monitoring of priority populations (e.g. those belonging to unique host races), should be emphasized in future action plans in Central Europe.