Research highlight

Triplet of European wood white butterflies

Nature Communications

May 25, 2011

The European wood white butterfly (Leptidea sp.) consists of three distinct species, instead of two "siblings" as previously thought, explains a study published in Nature Communications this week. This discovery of a new species highlights how a widespread and highly studied species can still provide discoveries in speciation and diversity.

Twenty years ago it was found that the Leptidea butterfly hid a cryptic species — a species which is reproductively isolated from the other but looks virtually identical — consisting of L. sinapis and L. reali. Roger Vila and colleagues show, using DNA and morphological data, that these so-called twins are in actual fact a triplet of cryptic species, now including L. juvernica stat.nov.

Uncovering such cryptic biodiversity helps explain patterns of evolution and ecosystem processes, as well as having implications for nature conservation.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1329

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