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Keywords:

  • Columbus hypothesis;
  • conservation;
  • gene flow;
  • microsatellite;
  • migration;
  • monarch butterfly

Abstract

Monarch butterflies are best known for their spectacular annual migration from eastern North America to Mexico. Monarchs also occur in the North American states west of the Rocky Mountains, from where they fly shorter distances to the California Coast. Whether eastern and western North American monarchs form one genetic population or are genetically differentiated remains hotly debated, and resolution of this debate is essential to understand monarch migration patterns and to protect this iconic insect species. We studied the genetic structure of North American migratory monarch populations, as well as nonmigratory populations in Hawaii and New Zealand. Our results show that eastern and western migratory monarchs form one admixed population and that monarchs from Hawaii and New Zealand have genetically diverged from North American butterflies. These findings suggest that eastern and western monarch butterflies maintain their divergent migrations despite genetic mixing. The finding that eastern and western monarchs form one genetic population also suggests that the conservation of overwintering sites in Mexico is crucial for the protection of monarchs in both eastern and western North America.