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Flying between Sky Islands: The Effect of Naturally Fragmented Habitat on Butterfly Population Structure

Sekar, Sandhya and Karanth, Praveen (2013) Flying between Sky Islands: The Effect of Naturally Fragmented Habitat on Butterfly Population Structure. In: PLOS ONE, 8 (8).

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071573


High elevation montane areas are called ``sky islands'' when they occur as a series of high mountains separated by lowland valleys. Different climatic conditions at high elevations makes sky islands a specialized type of habitat, rendering them naturally fragmented compared to more continuous habitat at lower elevations. Species in sky islands face unsuitable climate in the intervening valleys when moving from one montane area to another. The high elevation shola-grassland mosaic in the Western Ghats of southern India form one such sky island complex. The fragmented patches make this area ideal to study the effect of the spatial orientation of suitable habitat patches on population genetic structure of species found in these areas. Past studies have suggested that sky islands tend to have genetically structured populations, possibly due to reduced gene flow between montane areas. To test this hypothesis, we adopted the comparative approach. Using Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms, we compared population genetic structures of two closely related, similar sized butterfly species: Heteropsis oculus, a high elevation shola-grassland specialist restricted to the southern Western Ghats, and Mycalesis patnia, found more continuously distributed in lower elevations. In all analyses, as per expectation the sky island specialist H. oculus exhibited a greater degree of population genetic structure than M. patnia, implying a difference in geneflow. This difference in geneflow in turn appears to be due to the natural fragmentation of the sky island complexes. Detailed analysis of a subset of H. oculus samples from one sky island complex (the Anamalais) showed a surprising genetic break. A possible reason for this break could be unsuitable conditions of higher temperature and lower rainfall in the intervening valley region. Thus, sky island species are not only restricted by lack of habitat continuity between montane areas, but also by the nature of the intervening habitat.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: copyright for this article belongs to Authors
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Id for Latest eprints
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2013 05:58
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2013 05:58
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/47690

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