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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2008 Sep;48(3):799-808. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.05.025. Epub 2008 May 27.

Are you my mother? Phylogenetic analysis reveals orphan hybrid stick insect genus is part of a monophyletic New Zealand clade.

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  • 1Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology & Evolution, Ecology Group PN 624, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


The hybrid stick insect genus Acanthoxyla Uvarov 1944 is unusual for an obligate parthenogen, in the extreme morphological diversity it exhibits that has led to eight species being recognised. The New Zealand sexual species Clitarchus hookeri [White, A. 1846. The zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror. In: 1 Insects of New Zealand. E.W. Janson, London.] is the putative parental species in the hybridization that gave rise to the hybrid lineage Acanthoxyla. In an effort to identify the maternal ancestor of Acanthoxyla we sequenced nuclear 28S rDNA and/or mtDNA COI & COII of all nine endemic New Zealand stick insect genera, representing 17 of the 22 described species. We also sequenced 28S from eight non-New Zealand stick insects to supplement published 28S sequence data that provided a taxonomically and geographically broad sampling of the phasmids. We applied a novel search algorithm (SeqSSi=Sequence Similarity Sieve) to assist in selection of outgroup taxa for phylogenetic analysis prior to alignment. Phylogenetic reconstructions resolved an exclusively New Zealand clade to which the maternal lineage of Acanthoxyla belonged, but did not support existing higher level taxonomy of stick insects. We did not find a sexual maternal species for Acanthoxyla but phylogenetic relationships indicate that this species lived in New Zealand and could be classified among the New Zealand Phasmatinae. Among the available taxa, the nearest evolutionary neighbours to the New Zealand phasmid fauna as a whole were predominantly from the New Zealand region (Fiji, Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and South America). As it appears to be an orphan, it is interesting to speculate that a combination of parthenogenetic reproduction and/or hybrid vigour in Acanthoxyla may have contributed to the extinction of its mother.

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