Carlos Giraldo, Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Project title: Study of Mechanitis (Lepidoptera: Ithomiinae) in the Western Andean Mountain of Colombia.

The Ithomiinae (LEPIDOPTERA: Nymphalidae), is a subfamily of neotropical butterflies habiting forests and with distribution ranges from sea level to 3000 meters. These insects have been suggested as important health-quality indicators for Neotropical ecosystems and it has been suggested that the massive forest destruction is affecting populations and species survival so there is interest in their conservation. The genus Mechanitis includes four species, three of them (M. menapis, M. poyimnia and M. lysimnia) are found at the western Andean Mountain of Colombia. Generally, species identification of this genus involves using as characters color wing patterns of adults. In this Colombian region previous observations by the proponents suggest that those patterns are highly variable makes difficult species identification and thus specific biologic and ecological studies for the particular species or populations. Accordingly analysis of geographical distribution and ecological data for is not an easy task so evaluating, planning or executing conservation programs will be very difficult.


In this project, I will study intensively study Mechanitis at this area and will obtain morphological, ecological and molecular data to define the boundaries of these species. In addition, I should contribute to precise the distribution ranges, host plants and immature stages of those butterflies.
Field study will be made in open areas bordering the forest of the eastern slope at the edge of the western Andes. from 500 and to 2000 meters above sea level. The area includes dry and humid tropical forest alomg the Cauca River. In these places, adults and immature stages will be collected from the host plants. Botanical samples will be collected as well and taxonomically identified with specialist help.


The questions to be answered are: Which are the species present in the studied area? Are there three species of Mechanitis flying together in the study area? What is the precise geographical occurrence and distribution of each species? Are they using the same or different plants? How different are the genitalia? Are genitalia valid taxonomic characters and an isolation mechanism? Are genetically partitioned according to mitochondrial haplotypes? Are corresponding wing pattern groupings with genitalia, genetic information and immatures form distinguishable groupings?


To answer these questions, I will study morphological elements of adults and immature stages, ecological characters as host plants and oviposition behaviour, and hopefully larvae feeding. Mitocondrial gen COI, will be used to provide genetic information of the species