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Molecular Evolution and Phylogeny of the Drosophila saltans Species Group Inferred from the Xdh Gene


The Drosophila saltans group of the subgenus Sophophora consists of five species subgroups whose phylogenetic relationships are poorly known. We have analyzed 2085 coding nucleotides from the xanthine dehydrogenase (Xdh) gene in six species, at least one from each subgroup. We follow a model-based maximum likelihood framework. We first model the substitution process using a tree topology that is approximately accurate. Then we evaluate several candidate tree topologies using a working model of nucleotide substitution. We found that a minimally realistic description of the substitution process along the Xdh region should allow two transition and four transversion rate parameters and different fixed rates for codon positions, which are distributed statistically according to different gamma distributions. The phylogeny obtained using this description differs in significant respects from a phylogeny based on anatomical criteria. We have also analyzed data from five additional (three nuclear and two mitochondrial) gene regions. In our analysis, these relatively short DNA sequences, either separately or jointly, fail to discriminate statistically among alternative phylogenies. When the data for these five gene regions are combined with the Xdh sequences, the strong phylogenetic signal emerging from Xdh becomes somewhat diluted rather than reinforced. The phylogeny of the species and biogeographical considerations suggest that the D. saltans group originated in the tropics of the New World, similarly as the closely related D. willistoni group.

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