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The phylogeographic history of the threatened Diana fritillary, Speyeria diana (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): with implications for conservation

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The Diana fritillary, Speyeria diana (Cramer 1777) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae), is a North American endemic butterfly that disappeared from low elevation sites throughout its range in the twentieth century. It now persists in two geographically isolated mountainous regions, with an 800 km disjunction. Using mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase II DNA sequences from museum and field-sampled specimens, we found greater mtDNA diversity and more widespread differentiation among eastern populations than western ones. In addition, using coalescent-based population divergence models we dated the earliest splitting of eastern and western populations at least 20,000 years ago, during the Last Glacial Maximum. Therefore, the recent range collapse across the center of the historical species distribution may have exacerbated an ancient genetic differentiation between eastern and western populations. Finally, the loss of lowland haplotypes and the relatively large variation among local populations suggests that dispersal is low and lowland populations did not move to higher elevations, perhaps in response to climate change but, rather, appear to have vanished. Our results highlight the value of incorporating genetic data from preserved specimens when investigating the phylogeographic history and conservation status of a threatened species.

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This work was funded by the Clemson University Creative Inquiry Program, the Sarah Bradley Tyson Memorial Fellowship, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and a collection grant from the American Museum of Natural History. We appreciate guidance from Peter Adler, David Heckel, and the reviewers that improved this manuscript. We thank the museum curators who contributed to this project, including Bob Robbins (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History), Blanca Huertas (British Natural History Museum), David Grimaldi (American Museum of Natural History), James Boone (Field Museum), John Rawlins (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), Tim Tomon (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), Behnaz van Bekkum-Ansari (Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis Collection), Jacques Pierre (Paris Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle), and Willem Hogenes (Zoölogisch Museum Amsterdam). We also thank Chelsea Woodworth, Eric Smith, Jason Love, William Baltosser, Bill Garth, Tom Payne, Brent Kelley, Connie Wells, Sandy Emme, Sergio Marchant, and Holly Nance who assisted with field and lab work.

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Correspondence to Carrie N. Wells.

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Wells, C.N., Marko, P.B. & Tonkyn, D.W. The phylogeographic history of the threatened Diana fritillary, Speyeria diana (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): with implications for conservation. Conserv Genet 16, 703–716 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-014-0694-9

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  • Genetic differentiation
  • Gene flow
  • Range collapse
  • Historical specimens
  • Climate change
  • Butterfly