Contrasting Evolutionary Dynamics and Information Content of the Avian Mitochondrial Control Region and ND2 Gene

F. Keith Barker, Mariah K. Benesh, Arion J. Vandergon, Scott M. Lanyon

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20 Scopus citations


Mitochondrial DNA is an important tool for inference of population history in animals. A variety of mitochondrial loci have been sampled for this purpose, but many studies focus on the non-coding D-loop or control region (CR), which in at least some species appears hypermutable. Unfortunately, analyses of this region are sometimes complicated by segmental duplications, as well as by difficulties in sequencing through repeat expansions, driving many researchers to favor single-copy protein-coding or ribosomal RNA genes. Without systematic comparison, it is unclear if, how much, and what sort of information might be lost by focusing on coding regions, or conversely whether such regions might offer significant advantages over the CR. In this study, we compare the information content, both in terms of genealogy and tests of neutral equilibrium, of the mitochondrial CR and protein-coding ND2 gene of the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) and its close relative the tricolored blackbird (A. tricolor). Both gene regions violate the standard infinite sites assumption central to moment-based population genetic inference, as well as exhibiting considerable among-site rate heterogeneity, obscuring significant departures from neutral equilibrium. Given the ubiquity of rate heterogeneity in mtDNA, use of more sophisticated tests that account for this should be obligatory. The two regions yield quite similar genealogical reconstructions, as well as indicating similar departures from neutral equilibrium assumptions for A. phoeniceus. However, individual Sanger-read-length fragments (~600 bases) of the CR have significantly higher information content than comparable fragments of ND2, suggesting that limited sampling of the mitochondrial genome should focus on the CR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere46403
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 5 2012


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