moths and butterflies

Genetic Materials In Moths And Butterflies Have Remained Unchanged For The Past 250 Years

A study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution revealed a stunning fact regarding the unaltered genetic composition of moths and butterflies. Despite inhabiting a vast variety of species, they have remained constant in their genomes for over 250 million years. This remarkable genetic stability suggests that moths and butterflies, with great taxonomic diversity, have adapted to Earth’s changes. And, it can be used in future conservation efforts. The findings provide valuable insights into the evolution of these winged insects.

​​Moths and butterflies are members of the group Lepidoptera, which is made up of winged insects.  Researchers’ investigation offers insights into why certain species remain resilient amidst Earth’s swift environmental changes in the 21st century.

Moths And Butterflies Have Remained Unchanged For The Past 250 Years – Reason Why?

Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Edinburgh examined more than 200 genomes. A genome is the whole collection of genetic information important to create and sustain an organism. They discovered 32 ancestral chromosomes, which are the fundamental units of almost all lepidopterans. They were able to track the genetic code back to the first butterflies.

Prof. Mark Blaxter is the principal author of the research conducted for the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s Tree of Life initiative. He stressed that DNA binds every living thing. Through genomic analysis, they were able to map out the evolutionary background of butterflies back to their common ancestor. Research suggests that, with 16 times the number of species and a more stable evolutionary history, butterflies have a more secure genetic base than mammals. This demonstrates the significance of DNA in our history.

Lepidoptera make up approximately 10% of all living things on Earth. They are one of the most varied animal groupings. The majority of moth and butterfly species have 31 chromosomes. But, scientists discovered a rare subgroup of species, that has 90 chromosomes, defying the genetic norms of the species groupings. The subspecies also include the chalkhill blue butterfly, widespread in the British summer. 

At the Wellcome Sanger Institute, PhD candidate Charlotte Wright is studying the evolution of ecological diversity on a larger scale. She is primarily focusing on moths and butterflies, as 10% of known species fall into the category. She hopes to learn more about the genetic traits that make them successful and set them apart from other animal species.

The team, in collaboration with European partners, is actively working to catalogue approximately 11,000 moths and butterflies in the region.

Hope For Biodiversity Conservation

The accelerated loss of biodiversity is a component of the sixth mass extinction. It has resulted in the worrying loss of several insect species, including crucial pollinators. A study by Butterfly Conservation reveals that since 1976, over half of the UK’s butterfly habitats have disappeared. Thereby, indicating a significant decline in the country’s butterfly population. Researchers emphasize the importance of utilizing these findings to understand conservation strategies and mitigate the global decline in insect populations. The results can support these species’ conservation efforts.

Lepidopterans are strong markers of ecosystem health, according to the research team. Future studies on adaptability for biodiversity conservation will benefit from a better understanding of moth and butterfly biology.

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