Evolution of Hypolimnas butterflies (Nymphalidae): Out-of-Africa origin and Wolbachia-mediated introgression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Hypolimnas butterflies (Nymphalidae), commonly known as eggflies, are a popular model system for studying a wide range of ecological questions including mimicry, polymorphism, wing pattern evolution, and Wolbachia-host interactions. The lack of a time-calibrated phylogeny for this group has precluded understanding its evolutionary history. We reconstruct a species-level phylogeny using a nine gene dataset and estimate species divergence times. Based on the resulting tree, we investigate the taxon's historical biogeography, examine the evolution of host plant preferences, and test the hypothesis that the endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia mediates gene transfer between species. Our analyses indicate that the species are grouped within three strongly supported, deeply divergent clades. However, relationships among these three clades are uncertain. In addition, many Hypolimnas species are not monophyletic or monophyletic with weak support, suggesting widespread incomplete lineage sorting and/or introgression. Biogeographic analysis strongly indicates that the genus diverged from its ancestor in Africa and subsequently dispersed to Asia; the strength of this result is not affected by topological uncertainties. While the larvae of African species feed almost exclusively on Urticaceae, larvae of species found further east often feed on several additional families. Interestingly, we found an identical mitochondrial haplotype in two Hypolimnas species, H. bolina and H. alimena, and a strong association between this mitotype and the Wolbachia strain wBol1a. Future investigations should explore the plausibility of Wolbachia-mediated introgression between species.


  • Ranjit Kumar Sahoo
  • David J. Lohman
  • Niklas Wahlberg
  • Chris J. Müller
  • Oskar Brattström
  • Steve C. Collins
  • Djunijanti Peggie
  • Kwaku Aduse-Poku
  • Ullasa Kodandaramaiah
External organisations
  • City University of New York
  • New York University
  • University of Cambridge
  • African Butterfly Research Institute, Nairobi
  • Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram
  • National Museum of the Philippines
  • Australian Museum
  • Research Centre for Biology-LIPI
  • University of Energy and Natural Resources
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Arabia-Asia land bridge, Biogeography, Horizontal gene transfer, Host plant, Mid-Miocene climatic optimum, Oscillation hypothesis
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-58
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 1
Publication categoryResearch