Generally I am interested in interspecific relationships between animals, in evolutionary biology and the processes of speciation. In my PhD thesis I investigate whether different populations of the parasitic Large Blue Butterflies Maculinea nausithous and M. teleius can be identified as cryptic species. The highly endangered populations of both species are small and fragmented; individuals have a high spatial fidelity and long distance migrations are rare. Consequently, the gene flow between populations is low and the evolution of reproductive isolating barriers (RIBs) is possible, leading to the possible evolution of new species. The probability of intraspecific divergence between populations at the species- and population-levels is enhanced because of the unique adaptation of the Maculinea-species on certain ant species of the genus Myrmica: the Maculinea larvae mimic the odour of the host species, parasitize the ant nests and predate the brood.
Within my study I examine the host-ant specificity and the parasite-host (i.e. butterfly-ant) compatibility among at least four Maculinea-populations along a Palaearctic transect. I will generate an intraspecific phylogeny by using DNA-barcoding. If populations are identified as cryptic species, this would have a high impact on the conservation of these particular species.
This project is supervised by PD Dr. Josef Settele (animal ecology) and Dr. Walter Durka (molecular ecology) and is funded by the Volkswagenstiftung.