Aligned 18S and insect phylogeny

Karl M Kjer
Systematic Biology 2004, 53 (3): 506-14
The nuclear small subunit rRNA (18S) has played a dominant role in the estimation of relationships among insect orders from molecular data. In previous studies, 18S sequences have been aligned by unadjusted automated approaches (computer alignments that are not manually readjusted), most recently with direct optimization (simultaneous alignment and tree building using a program called "POY"). Parsimony has been the principal optimality criterion. Given the problems associated with the alignment of rRNA, and the recent availability of the doublet model for the analysis of covarying sites using Bayesian MCMC analysis, a different approach is called for in the analysis of these data. In this paper, nucleotide sequence data from the 18S small subunit rRNA gene of insects are aligned manually with reference to secondary structure, and analyzed under Bayesian phylogenetic methods with both GTR+I+G and doublet models in MrBayes. A credible phylogeny of Insecta is recovered that is independent of the morphological data and (unlike many other analyses of 18S in insects) not contradictory to traditional ideas of insect ordinal relationships based on morphology. Hexapoda, including Collembola, are monophyletic. Paraneoptera are the sister taxon to a monophyletic Holometabola but weakly supported. Ephemeroptera are supported as the sister taxon of Neoptera, and this result is interpreted with respect to the evolution of direct sperm transfer and the evolution of flight. Many other relationships are well-supported but several taxa remain problematic, e.g., there is virtually no support for relationships among orthopteroid orders. A website is made available that provides aligned 18S data in formats that include structural symbols and Nexus formats.

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