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Mol Ecol Resour. 2011 Nov;11(6):1045-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2011.03049.x. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Searching for evidence of selection in avian DNA barcodes.

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  • 1Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA.


The barcode of life project has assembled a tremendous number of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) sequences. Although these sequences were gathered to develop a DNA-based system for species identification, it has been suggested that further biological inferences may also be derived from this wealth of data. Recurrent selective sweeps have been invoked as an evolutionary mechanism to explain limited intraspecific COI diversity, particularly in birds, but this hypothesis has not been formally tested. In this study, I collated COI sequences from previous barcoding studies on birds and tested them for evidence of selection. Using this expanded data set, I re-examined the relationships between intraspecific diversity and interspecific divergence and sampling effort, respectively. I employed the McDonald-Kreitman test to test for neutrality in sequence evolution between closely related pairs of species. Because amino acid sequences were generally constrained between closely related pairs, I also included broader intra-order comparisons to quantify patterns of protein variation in avian COI sequences. Lastly, using 22 published whole mitochondrial genomes, I compared the evolutionary rate of COI against the other 12 protein-coding mitochondrial genes to assess intragenomic variability. I found no conclusive evidence of selective sweeps. Most evidence pointed to an overall trend of strong purifying selection and functional constraint. The COI protein did vary across the class Aves, but to a very limited extent. COI was the least variable gene in the mitochondrial genome, suggesting that other genes might be more informative for probing factors constraining mitochondrial variation within species.

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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