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  • The estimation of phylogenetic relationships is an essential component of understanding evolution. Accurate phylogenetic estimation is difficult, however, when internodes are short and old, when genealogical discordance is common due to large ancestral effective population sizes or ancestral population structure, and when homoplasy is prevalent. Inference of divergence times is also hampered by unknown and uneven rates of evolution, the incomplete fossil record, uncertainty in relationships between fossil and extant lineages, and uncertainty in the age of fossils. Ideally, these challenges can be overcome by developing large "phylogenomic" data sets and by analyzing them with methods that accommodate features of the evolutionary process, such as genealogical discordance, recurrent substitution, recombination, ancestral population structure, gene flow after speciation among sampled and unsampled taxa, and variation in evolutionary rates. In some phylogenetic problems, it is possible to use information that is independent of fossils, such as the geological record, to identify putative triggers for diversification whose associated estimated divergence times can then be compared a posteriori with estimated relationships and ages of fossils. The history of diversification of pipid frog genera Pipa, Hymenochirus, Silurana, and Xenopus, for instance, is characterized by many of these evolutionary and analytical challenges. These frogs diversified dozens of millions of years ago, they have a relatively rich fossil record, their distributions span continental plates with a well characterized geological record of ancient connectivity, and there is considerable disagreement across studies in estimated evolutionary relationships. We used high throughput sequencing and public databases to generate a large phylogenomic data set with which we estimated evolutionary relationships using multilocus coalescence methods. We collected sequence data from Pipa, Hymenochirus, Silurana, and Xenopus and the outgroup taxon Rhinophrynus dorsalis from coding sequence of 113 autosomal regions, averaging ∼300 bp in length (range: 102-1695 bp) and also a portion of the mitochondrial genome. Analysis of these data using multiple approaches recovers strong support for the ((Xenopus, Silurana)(Pipa, Hymenochirus)) topology, and geologically calibrated divergence time estimates that are consistent with estimated ages and phylogenetic affinities of many fossils. These results provide new insights into the biogeography and chronology of pipid diversification during the breakup of Gondwanaland and illustrate how phylogenomic data may be necessary to tackle tough problems in molecular systematics. [Coalescence; gene tree; high-throughout sequencing; lineage sorting; pipid; species tree; Xenopus.].


  • Bewick, Adam J
  • Chain, Frédéric JJ
  • Heled, Joseph
  • Evans, Ben

publication date

  • December 1, 2012