Send to

Choose Destination
PeerJ. 2016 Mar 31;4:e1865. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1865. eCollection 2016.

Host plant use drives genetic differentiation in syntopic populations of Maculinea alcon.

Author information

Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human Biology, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary.
Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
IST Austria (Institute of Science and Technology Austria), Klosterneuburg, Austria.
Contributed equally


The rare socially parasitic butterfly Maculinea alcon occurs in two forms, which are characteristic of hygric or xeric habitats and which exploit different host plants and host ants. The status of these two forms has been the subject of considerable controversy. Populations of the two forms are usually spatially distinct, but at Răscruci in Romania both forms occur on the same site (syntopically). We examined the genetic differentiation between the two forms using eight microsatellite markers, and compared with a nearby hygric site, Şardu. Our results showed that while the two forms are strongly differentiated at Răscruci, it is the xeric form there that is most similar to the hygric form at Şardu, and Bayesian clustering algorithms suggest that these two populations have exchanged genes relatively recently. We found strong evidence for population substructuring, caused by high within host ant nest relatedness, indicating very limited dispersal of most ovipositing females, but not association with particular host ant species. Our results are consistent with the results of larger scale phylogeographic studies that suggest that the two forms represent local ecotypes specialising on different host plants, each with a distinct flowering phenology, providing a temporal rather than spatial barrier to gene flow.


Conservation units; Disruptive selection; Gentiana; Host specificity; Immigration; Maculinea rebeli; Myrmica; Phenological separation

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PeerJ, Inc. Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center