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Syst Biol. 2003 Dec;52(6):745-56.

Time flies, a new molecular time-scale for brachyceran fly evolution without a clock.

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


The insect order Diptera, the true flies, contains one of the four largest Mesozoic insect radiations within its suborder Brachycera. Estimates of phylogenetic relationships and divergence dates among the major brachyceran lineages have been problematic or vague because of a lack of consistent evidence and the rarity of well-preserved fossils. Here, we combine new evidence from nucleotide sequence data, morphological reinterpretations, and fossils to improve estimates of brachyceran evolutionary relationships and ages. The 28S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) gene was sequenced for a broad diversity of taxa, and the data were combined with recently published morphological scorings for a parsimony-based phylogenetic analysis. The phylogenetic topology inferred from the combined 28S rDNA and morphology data set supports brachyceran monophyly and the monophyly of the four major brachyceran infraorders and suggests relationships largely consistent with previous classifications. Weak support was found for a basal brachyceran clade comprising the infraorders Stratiomyomorpha (soldier flies and relatives), Xylophagomorpha (xylophagid flies), and Tabanomorpha (horse flies, snipe flies, and relatives). This topology and similar alternative arrangements were used to obtain Bayesian estimates of divergence times, both with and without the assumption of a constant evolutionary rate. The estimated times were relatively robust to the choice of prior distributions. Divergence times based on the 28S rDNA and several fossil constraints indicate that the Brachycera originated in the late Triassic or earliest Mesozoic and that all major lower brachyceran fly lineages had near contemporaneous origins in the mid-Jurassic prior to the origin of flowering plants (angiosperms). This study provides increased resolution of brachyceran phylogeny, and our revised estimates of fly ages should improve the temporal context of evolutionary inferences and genomic comparisons between fly model organisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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