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Biol Lett. 2008 Jun 23;4(3):274-8. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0062.

Prehistorical climate change increased diversification of a group of butterflies.

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Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.


Satyrinae butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) and grasses (Poaceae) are very diverse and distributed worldwide. Most Satyrinae use grasses as host plants, but the temporal scale of this tight association is not known. Here, we present a phylogenetic study of Satyrinae butterflies and related groups, based on 5.1 kilobases from six gene regions and 238 morphological characters for all major lineages in the 'satyrine clade'. Estimates of divergence times calibrated using a fossil from the Late Oligocene indicate that the species-rich tribe Satyrini diversified to its current 2200 species simultaneously with the expansion and radiation of grasses during the dramatic cooling and drying up of the Earth in the Oligocene. We suggest that the adaptive radiation of grass feeders in Satyrini has been facilitated by the ubiquitousness of grasses since 25Myr ago, which was triggered by a change in global climate.

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