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Background: Butterflies (Papilionoidea) are perhaps the most charismatic insect lineage, yet phylogenetic relationships among them remain incompletely studied and controversial. This is especially true for skippers (Hesperiidae), one of the most species-rich and poorly studied butterfly families.

Methods: To infer a robust phylogenomic hypothesis for Hesperiidae, we sequenced nearly 400 loci using Anchored Hybrid Enrichment and sampled all tribes and more than 120 genera of skippers. Molecular datasets were analyzed using maximum-likelihood, parsimony and coalescent multi-species phylogenetic methods.

Results: All analyses converged on a novel, robust phylogenetic hypothesis for skippers. Different optimality criteria and methodologies recovered almost identical phylogenetic trees with strong nodal support at nearly all nodes and all taxonomic levels. Our results support Coeliadinae as the sister group to the remaining skippers, the monotypic Euschemoninae as the sister group to all other subfamilies but Coeliadinae, and the monophyly of Eudaminae plus Pyrginae. Within Pyrginae, Celaenorrhinini and Tagiadini are sister groups, the Neotropical firetips, Pyrrhopygini, are sister to all other tribes but Celaenorrhinini and Tagiadini. Achlyodini is recovered as the sister group to Carcharodini, and Erynnini as sister group to Pyrgini. Within the grass skippers (Hesperiinae), there is strong support for the monophyly of Aeromachini plus remaining Hesperiinae. The giant skippers (Agathymus and Megathymus) once classified as a subfamily, are recovered as monophyletic with strong support, but are deeply nested within Hesperiinae.

Conclusions: Anchored Hybrid Enrichment sequencing resulted in a large amount of data that built the foundation for a new, robust evolutionary tree of skippers. The newly inferred phylogenetic tree resolves long-standing systematic issues and changes our understanding of the skipper tree of life. These resultsenhance understanding of the evolution of one of the most species-rich butterfly families.


This article was originally published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, available at DOI: 10.1186/s12862-018-1216-z.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (

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