Evolution and ecology of the Australian Heliozelidae (Adeloidea, Lepidoptera)
AffiliationSchool of BioSciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-01-25.
© 2018 Dr. Elizabeth Milla
The Heliozelidae (Adeloidea: Lepidoptera) are a family of small, primitive day-flying moths with a worldwide distribution. In recent years, potentially hundreds of new species have been collected around Australia, predominantly in the southwest region of Western Australia. Overall, our observations suggested that many Australian species have evolved independently from other groups in the family. In particular, there is one group of Australian species possessing a unique pollen-carrying abdominal cleft that have established a remarkably close association with species of the Rutaceae (Sapindales) plant genus Boronia. In order to understand the evolution of the Australian Heliozelidae, a robust phylogenetic framework of the Heliozelidae family was required. Additionally, examination of the origins and purpose of the unique morphology of pollen-carrying species and the nature of the associations with their Boronia hosts was crucial to understand their ecological role. Thus, in the first part of this thesis (Chapters Two and Three), I focused on resolving the phylogeny of the worldwide Heliozelidae family and placing the Australian species within it. In Chapter Two, I generated a preliminary phylogeny identifying the major Heliozelidae clades and identify Australia as one of the regions with high undescribed diversity. In Chapter Three, I estimated a fully resolved time-calibrated phylogeny of the major heliozelid clades, with an ancestral range estimation tracing the origins of the family to the Australian region around 96 Mya, during the Late Miocene. In the second part of the thesis (Chapters Four and Five), I focused on the group of Western Australian species that has formed a remarkable association with species in the plant genus Boronia. In Chapter Four, I presented a molecular phylogeny of the Boronia pollinator moths and found preliminary evidence of cospeciation between the moths and their Boronia hosts. In Chapter Five, I described the remarkable active pollination behaviour in three different species of Boronia pollinator, and established the obligate pollination relationship between B. megastigma and its heliozelid pollinator. The findings from this thesis suggest that Heliozelidae play an important role in the Australian environment, exemplified through their close pollination association with the predominantly Australia genus Boronia. Thus, further research into this family of small day-flying moths, which has been poorly studied in Australia until now, is required to better understand their significance.
Keywordspollination; phylogenomics; obligate mutualism; biogeography
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