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Molecular substitution rate increases in myrmecophilous lycaenid butterflies (Lepidoptera)
Is species diversification driven by neutral- or niche-based processes? Butterflies of the Lycaenidae family have developed mutualistic interactions with ants. This biotic requirement increased the spatial fragmentation of populations of lower effective population size (Ne) compared with autonomous species. The nearly neutral theory predicts that species with smaller Ne should fix more mutations because of the increased strength of drift. Taking into account the phylogenetic relatedness among species, this study shows that species with a stronger dependence on ants displayed more intra-specific Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms compared with species with low or no myrmecophily. This phenomenon can cause more pronounced genetic differentiation between populations and could ultimately promote speciation in a similar manner as on physical islands. The large species diversity observed in this family could be the consequence of this neutral process enhancing the diversification of lineages.
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