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Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Mar;19(3):302-9.

Molecular clocks in reptiles: life history influences rate of molecular evolution.

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  • Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. l.d.bromham@sussex.ac.uk


Life history has been implicated as a determinant of variation in rate of molecular evolution amongst vertebrate species because of a negative correlation between body size and substitution rate for many molecular data sets. Both the generality and the cause of the negative body size trend have been debated, and the validity of key studies has been questioned (particularly concerning the failure to account for phylogenetic bias). In this study, a comparative method has been used to test for an association between a range of life-history variables-such as body size, age at maturity, and clutch size-and DNA substitution rate for three genes (NADH4, cytochrome b, and c-mos). A negative relationship between body size and rate of molecular evolution was found for phylogenetically independent pairs of reptile species spanning turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodile, and tuatara. Although this study was limited by the number of comparisons for which both sequence and life-history data were available, the results suggest that a negative body size trend in rate of molecular evolution may be a general feature of reptile molecular evolution, consistent with similar studies of mammals and birds. This observation has important implications for uncovering the mechanisms of molecular evolution and warns against assuming that related lineages will share the same substitution rate (a local molecular clock) in order to date evolutionary divergences from DNA sequences.

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