Relative patterns and rates of evolution in heron nuclear and mitochondrial DNA

Frederick H. Sheldon, Clare E. Jones, Kevin G. McCracken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence data from 15 species of herons (Aves: Ardeidae), representing 13 genera, were compared with DNA hybridization data of single-copy nuclear DNA (scnDNA) from the same species in a taxonomic congruence assessment of heron phylogeny. The two data sets produced a partially resolved, completely congruent estimate of phylogeny with the following basic structure: (Tigrisoma, Cochlearius, (((Zebrilus, (Ixobrychus, Botaurus)), (((Ardea, Casmerodius), Bubulcus), ((Egretta thula, Egretta caerulea, Egretta tricolor), Syrigma), Butorides, Nycticorax, Nyctanassa)))). Because congruence indicated similar phylogenetic information in the two data sets, we used the relatively unsaturated DNA hybridization distances as surrogates of time to examine graphically the patterns and rates of change in cytochrome b distances. Cytochrome b distances were computed either from whole sequences or from partitioned sequences consisting of transitions, transversions, specific codon site positions, or specific protein-coding regions. These graphical comparisons indicated that unpartitioned cytochrome b has evolved at 5-10 times the rate of scnDNA. Third-position transversions appeared to offer the most useful sequence partition for phylogenetic analysis because of their relatively fast rate of substitution (two times that of scnDNA) and negligible saturation. We also examined lineage-based rates of evolution by comparing branch length patterns between the nuclear and cytochrome b trees. The degree of correlation in corresponding branch lengths between cytochrome b and DNA hybridization trees depended on DNA sequence partitioning. When cytochrome b sequences were not partitioned, branch lengths in the cytochrome b and DNA hybridization trees were not correlated. However, when cytochrome b sequences were reduced to third-position transversions (i.e., unsaturated, relatively fast changing data), branch lengths were correlated. This finding suggests that lineage- based rates of DNA evolution in nuclear and mitochondrial genomes are influenced by common causes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-450
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Ardeidae
  • Congruence analysis
  • Cytochrome b sequence
  • DNA-DNA hybridization
  • Phylogeny
  • Rates of evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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