Base-substitution mutation rate across the nuclear genome of Alpheus snapping shrimp and the timing of isolation by the Isthmus of Panama

Katherine Silliman, Jane L. Indorf, Nancy Knowlton, William E. Browne, Carla Hurt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The formation of the Isthmus of Panama and final closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS) provides an independent calibration point for examining the rate of DNA substitutions. This vicariant event has been widely used to estimate the substitution rate across mitochondrial genomes and to date evolutionary events in other taxonomic groups. Nuclear sequence data is increasingly being used to complement mitochondrial datasets for phylogenetic and evolutionary investigations; these studies would benefit from information regarding the rate and pattern of DNA substitutions derived from the nuclear genome. Results: To estimate the genome-wide neutral mutation rate (µ), genotype-by-sequencing (GBS) datasets were generated for three transisthmian species pairs in Alpheus snapping shrimp. A range of bioinformatic filtering parameters were evaluated in order to minimize potential bias in mutation rate estimates that may result from SNP filtering. Using a Bayesian coalescent approach (G-PhoCS) applied to 44,960 GBS loci, we estimated µ to be 2.64E−9 substitutions/site/year, when calibrated with the closure of the CAS at 3 Ma. Post-divergence gene flow was detected in one species pair. Failure to account for this post-split migration inflates our substitution rate estimates, emphasizing the importance of demographic methods that can accommodate gene flow. Conclusions: Results from our study, both parameter estimates and bioinformatic explorations, have broad-ranging implications for phylogeographic studies in other non-model taxa using reduced representation datasets. Our best estimate of µ that accounts for coalescent and demographic processes is remarkably similar to experimentally derived mutation rates in model arthropod systems. These results contradicted recent suggestions that the closure of the Isthmus was completed much earlier (around 10 Ma), as mutation rates based on an early calibration resulted in uncharacteristically low genomic mutation rates. Also, stricter filtering parameters resulted in biased datasets that generated lower mutation rate estimates and influenced demographic parameters, serving as a cautionary tale for the adherence to conservative bioinformatic strategies when generating reduced-representation datasets at the species level. To our knowledge this is the first use of transisthmian species pairs to calibrate the rate of molecular evolution from GBS data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalBMC Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Alpheus
  • Genotype-by-sequencing
  • Isthmus of Panama
  • Molecular evolution
  • Mutation rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science(all)


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