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Mol Biol Evol. 1999 Jun;16(6):784-92.

Complete mitochondrial DNA sequences of the green turtle and blue-tailed mole skink: statistical evidence for archosaurian affinity of turtles.

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  • 1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Nagoya University, Japan.


Turtles have highly specialized morphological characteristics, and their phylogenetic position has been under intensive debate. Previous molecular studies have not established a consistent and statistically well supported conclusion on this issue. In order to address this, complete mitochondrial DNA sequences were determined for the green turtle and the blue-tailed mole skink. These genomes possess an organization of genes which is typical of most other vertebrates, such as placental mammals, a frog, and bony fishes, but distinct from organizations of alligators and snakes. Molecular evolutionary rates of mitochondrial protein sequences appear to vary considerably among major reptilian lineages, with relatively rapid rates for snake and crocodilian lineages but slow rates for turtle and lizard lineages. In spite of this rate heterogeneity, phylogenetic analyses using amino acid sequences of 12 mitochondrial proteins reliably established the Archosauria (birds and crocodilians) and Lepidosauria (lizards and snakes) clades postulated from previous morphological studies. The phylogenetic analyses further suggested that turtles are a sister group of the archosaurs, and this untraditional relationship was provided with strong statistical evidence by both the bootstrap and the Kishino-Hasegawa tests. This is the first statistically significant molecular phylogeny on the placement of turtles relative to the archosaurs and lepidosaurs. It is therefore likely that turtles originated from a Permian-Triassic archosauromorph ancestor with two pairs of temporal fenestrae behind the skull orbit that were subsequently lost. The traditional classification of turtles in the Anapsida may thus need to be reconsidered.

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