Student Profile: Sebastián Padrón

Academic Advisor: Dr. Keith Willmott

Last summer and over Christmas, Sebastián Padrón traveled to Ecuador and spent many days in the field collecting butterflies for his thesis.

The Neotropics are known for their high butterfly diversity, but despite this fact, there remain many genera that have been historically poorly studied. Altopedaliodes and Neopedaliodes are two Neotropical genera belonging to the subtribe Pronophilina, which fly at the highest altitudes in the Andes. Because these taxa occur in isolated places in high mountains, they are difficult to catch and they are thus poorly represented in most collections. Padrón has three main goals. First is generic revision: according to him, "Altopedaliodes has never been thoroughly revised, and molecular sequence data have never been used to assist in the species-level classification of any pronophiline genus." Sebastián therefore intends to use morphological and genetic characters to revise the taxonomy of both genera.

Sebastian Padron Sebastián Padrón in Ecuador.

Second, Padrón intends to focus on generic phylogeny. Since there are very few published evolutionary studies at the species-level of any pronophiline genera to date, he reasons that such studies are needed to clarify the generic classification and species limits. They can also be useful in biogeographic studies. The third objective of Sebastián's research is conservation of the species that he works with. "These two genera inhabit the very narrow ecotone between the high elevation forests and paramo grassland. In addition, a number of species are known from very restricted ranges, some from only a single site," he says. "They therefore have small global distributions, which are likely to be significantly affected by future climate change."