Get access

Identifying units for conservation using molecular systematics: the cautionary tale of the Karner blue butterfly


Zachariah Gompert, Fax: (512) 245–8713; E-mail:


The federally endangered North American Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) and the closely related Melissa blue butterfly (L. m. melissa) can be distinguished based on life history and morphology. Western populations of L. m. samuelis share mitochondrial haplotypes with L. m. melissa populations, while eastern populations of L. m. samuelis have divergent haplotypes. Here we test two hypotheses concerning the presence of L. m. melissa mitochondrial haplotypes in western L. m. samuelis populations: (i) mitochondrial introgression has occurred from L. m. melissa populations into western L. m. samuelis populations, or (ii) western populations of the nominal L. m. samuelis are more closely related to L. m. melissa than to eastern L. m. samuelis populations, yet are phenotypically similar to the latter. A Bayesian algorithm was used to cluster 190 L. melissa individuals based on 143 informative amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) loci. This method clearly differentiated L. m. samuelis and L. m. melissa. Thus, genomic divergence was greater between western L. m. samuelis populations and L. m. melissa populations than it was between western and eastern populations of L. m. samuelis. This supports the hypothesis that the presence of L. m. melissa mitochondrial haplotypes in western L. m. samuelis populations is the result of mitochondrial introgression. These data provide valuable information for conservation and management plans for the endangered L. m. samuelis, and illustrate the risks of using data from a single locus for diagnosing significant units of biodiversity for conservation.