New butterfly species identified in Yucatan peninsula

November 23, 2011

About 160,000 species of butterflies and moths are already known, but scientists believe that a similar number still remain undiscovered. Identification and characterization of these species can be complicated by the fact that each species has an immature caterpillar and a mature butterfly form, as well as the reliance on the physical appearance for classification.

Now, though, researchers report that a type of DNA analysis called "barcoding" may provide a powerful tool in this effort, according to a study published in the Nov. 16 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers, led by Carmen Pozo of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Mexico, focused on the Yucatan peninsula population of a particular family of butterflies called Nymphalidae.

Approximately 570 species of Nymphalidae have been reported in Mexico, and 121 of these occur in the Yucatan peninsula. Using DNA barcoding, which uses the sequence of a standard short gene segment to provide information about biodiversity, they found evidence for several previously undiscovered, so-called "cryptic" species that now await characterization.

They also found four cases where specimen had been misidentified based on the appearance; these erroneous classifications were corrected based on the DNA, highlighting the potential utility of this method.
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Citation: Prado BR, Pozo C, Valdez-Moreno M, Hebert PDN (2011) Beyond the Colours: Discovering Hidden Diversity in the Nymphalidae of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico through DNA Barcoding. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27776.

Financial Disclosure: Funding for sequence analysis was provided by a Discovery Grant from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council to PH and by a grant from the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute in support of the International Barcode of Life Project. The Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation provided funds for the analysis and curation of the barcode records. This work is part of the MSc thesis of Blanca R. Prado and was supported with a grant provided by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologı´a (CONACyT grant 207930). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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