Daniel Rubinoff in collaboration with Akito Y. Kawahara, Patrick Schmitz, and Will Haines

Interactive key to Hawaiian Fancy-cased caterpillars and moths (Hyposmocoma)

Molecular systematics and adaptive radiation of the Hawaiian endemic moth genus Hyposmocoma (Lepidoptera: Cosmopterigidae)

Remote volcanic island archipelagos make incomparable natural laboratories for the study of patterns of diversification and species formation. In the Hawaiian Archipelago, an isolated island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the extreme isolation, topographical diversity, and chronological linear arrangement of islands provide an unparalleled natural experiment for observing processes of adaptive radiation, and the evolution of ecological and phenotypic diversity within a rapidly multiplying lineage. The endemic cosmopterigid moth genus Hyposmocoma is one of the greatest radiations in the Hawaiian Islands, and may rival or exceed Drosophila in endemic Hawaiian species diversity. The species of Hyposmocoma occupy an extraordinary diversity of native habitats and include at least a few aquatic species on each of the main islands. Another remarkable trait of Hyposmocoma is the spectacular diversity of cases carried through larval development as shelters. Hyposmocoma’s utility and importance is not simply due to the high number of species in the genus, but also it is the remarkable ecological diversity of the group, which even includes predatory species, and the evolutionary resource this exceptional model provides for understanding the mechanisms and patterns of diversification and species formation on islands, as well as across vastly different environments.

We propose to conduct a broad survey of the diversity of the microlepidoptera belonging to the speciose genus Hyposmocoma throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. Newly acquired data will be integrated into an existing database. Specifically, we will employ a total evidence approach including molecular, morphological, and ecological characters to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among species in the aquatic/terrestrial and related clades. This research project will provide insights into the evolution of ecological novelty and address fundamental questions about the relationship between ecological diversification and patterns of speciation because the factors that foster or limit ecological diversification may bear directly on rates of speciation. Island systems offer successful colonists unique opportunities to diversify into niches that might not be available in geologically older, less isolated and as a result, ecologically more complex continental ecosystems. Such opportunities reveal novel propensities to invade, colonize, and speciate into dissimilar niches as indicated by the shifts between aquatic and terrestrial species in Hyposmocoma. But specific understanding of the evolutionary processes leading to such dramatic life history shifts is often lacking. Hyposmocoma offers a unique opportunity to study a monophyletic, species rich, ecologically diverse, and conservation relevant island radiation.

New species of Hawaiian Hyposmocoma moths. Adult specimens are shown, all 18 species were reared under laboratory conditions at the Insect Systematics Lab of the University of Hawaii.

Diversity of case types found in the spectacular endemic Hawaiian Hyposmocoma moth radiation.

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Picture of a newly discovered species of Hyposmocoma

Cone-cased aquatic larvae in Iao Valley stream of Maui

Emergence of a cone-cased moth from Iao Valley of Maui

Burrito-cased larvae resting in the Garden of the Gods of Lanai

Kala'i, one of our high school volunteers, working on the Hyposmocoma project