Sunday, February 6, 2011

On ancestral temperature tolerances, butterfly colonization, Lolita and Vladimir Nabokov

Picture sources from Wikipedia.

This week's lab-meeting will take place at 13.30 on Wednesday February 9 in "Darwin", in accordance with our new schedule. We will discuss a very interesting article from Naomi Pierce's laboratory, which deals with biogeography and multiple "waves" of colonization of Polyommatus blues (butterflies belonging to the family Lycaenidae), as they crossed the Bering's Strait in North America. This beatiful paper integrates ancestral state reconstructions of an ecological important trait (thermal tolerance), biogeography, phylogeny and is of also of litterary interest, as the authors confirm a hypothesis by amateur lepidopterist and famous russian author Nabokov. 

Vladimir Nabokov worked at the museum in Harvard (where Naomi Pierce is active today), during the middle part of the last century. Nabokov is mainly known as an important figure in litterature for his famous but controversial erotic novel "Lolita", about the sexual attraction a middle-age man felt towards a young 12-year old girl. Then and now quite a forbidden topic. But Nabokov was also an excellent amateur entomologist and systematist, whose expertise in butterflies exceeded many professional systematists.

Nabokovs biogeographical hypothesis about multiple waves of colonization of bluets to the New World was based on considerations of genital morphology, but has now proven to be largely correct and validated by molecular data. An excellent example how natural history, systematics and museum expertise can be predictive sciences and complement molecular systematics, rather than being replaced by it. I think our former postdoc and beloved co-worker Shawn Kuchta will love this paper. There is an interesting popular essay in New York Times as well, which might be of interest and worth reading prior to the lab-meeting. You can find that excellent essay by Carl Zimmer here. A blog post on the interesting phylogenetic blog "Dechronization" also comments on Zimmer's paper.  

Below is the Abstract to the original article in Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. that we will discuss on Wednesday. It is an "Open Acess"-article, so just follow the link to the abstract and then you should be able to download it.

Phylogeny and palaeoecology of Polyommatus blue butterflies show Beringia was a climate-regulated gateway to the New World

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