Study advances ‘DNA revolution,’ tells butterflies’ evolutionary history

 

After Big Bang

By tracing nearly 3,000 genes to the earliest common ancestor of butterflies and moths, scientists have created an extensive “Tree of Lepidoptera” in the first study to use large-scale, next-generation DNA sequencing.

Butterflies. Credit: © andrey7777777 Butterflies.
Credit: © andrey7777777

Among the study’s more surprising findings: Butterflies are more closely related to small moths than to large ones, which completely changes scientists’ understanding of how butterflies evolved. The study also found that some insects once classified as moths are actually butterflies, increasing the number of butterfly species higher than previously thought.

“This project advances biodiversity research by providing an evolutionary foundation for a very diverse group of insects, with nearly 160,000 described species,” said Akito Kawahara, lead author and assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “With a tree, we can now understand how the majority of butterfly and moth species evolved.”

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