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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2000 May;15(2):242-59.

Nuclear genes resolve mesozoic-aged divergences in the insect order Lepidoptera.

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Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, USA.


Compared to the number of genes available for study of both younger and older divergences, few genes have yet been identified that can strongly resolve phylogenetic splits of Mesozoic age ( approximately 65-250 mya). Thus, reconstruction of Mesozoic-age phylogenies, exemplified by basal divergences within the major orders of holometabolous insects, is likely to be especially dependent on combining multiple lines of evidence. This study tests the potential of the 18S ribosomal RNA gene for reconstructing Mesozoic-aged divergences within the insect order Lepidoptera and its ability when combined with a second, previously analyzed nuclear gene (phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, PEPCK) to strongly resolve these relationships. 18S sequences were obtained for 21 taxa, representing major clades of Lepidoptera plus outgroups from the other "panorpoid orders. A well-corroborated morphology-based "test phylogeny was used to evaluate the effects of partitioning the 18S gene according to variable versus conserved domains, paired versus unpaired sites in the secondary structure, and transition versus transversion substitutions. Likelihood and unweighted parsimony analyses of the 18S data recover the "test phylogeny" almost completely, with no improvement of agreement or support provided by any form of weighting or partitioning. No conflict in signal between 18S and PEPCK was detected by the partition homogeneity test. Combined parsimony analysis yielded strong bootstrap support for nearly all relationships, much higher than for either gene alone, thereby also providing strong evidence on several hypotheses about the early evolution of lepidopteran-plant interactions. These genes in combination may be widely useful for resolving insect divergences of comparable age.

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