Evolution of European Cockchafers (Melolonthinae: Scarabaeidae: Coleoptera): a morphological, molecular and chromosomal study of intra- and inter-specific variations
In cockchafers of the genus Melolontha, there is a marked intraspecific polymorphism for morphological characters, making some specimens of one species resemble another. A cytogenetic and molecular (mitochondrial COI gene sequence) study of typical and atypical forms of M. melolontha and M. hippocastani, captured at the same period and area, was performed. Karyotypes and haplotypes clearly characterize each taxon, placing atypical specimens in one or the other species unambiguously. This formally discards the role of hybridization in phenotypic resemblance, as usually proposed. Karyotypes and haplotypes were compared to those of M. pectoralis and Phyllophaga pleei, a more distantly related Melolonthinae, and some Dynastinae species, to reconstruct their ancestral karyotype. The karyotype of M. melolontha is the most derivative and that of P. pleei the most conserved among the Melolonthinae studied, which fits with the phylogeny established by COI gene analysis. Both karyotypes and COI haplotypes demonstrate the proximity of M. pectoralis and M. melolontha. The karyotype of M. melolontha is polymorphic, without relationship with morphological variations. Finally, the existence of similar morphological variations in different Melolontha species and chromosomal polymorphism in M. melolontha is discussed in relation with a network (reticulated) mode of speciation.