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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Aug 7;272(1572):1525-34.

Problems with mitochondrial DNA as a marker in population, phylogeographic and phylogenetic studies: the effects of inherited symbionts.

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Department of Biology, University College London, 4 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HE, UK.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been a marker of choice for reconstructing historical patterns of population demography, admixture, biogeography and speciation. However, it has recently been suggested that the pervasive nature of direct and indirect selection on this molecule renders any conclusion derived from it ambiguous. We review here the evidence for indirect selection on mtDNA in arthropods arising from linkage disequilibrium with maternally inherited symbionts. We note first that these symbionts are very common in arthropods and then review studies that reveal the extent to which they shape mtDNA evolution. mtDNA diversity patterns are compatible with neutral expectations for an uninfected population in only 2 of 19 cases. The remaining 17 studies revealed cases of symbiont-driven reduction in mtDNA diversity, symbiont-driven increases in diversity, symbiont-driven changes in mtDNA variation over space and symbiont-associated paraphyly of mtDNA. We therefore conclude that these elements often confound the inference of an organism's evolutionary history from mtDNA data and that mtDNA on its own is an unsuitable marker for the study of recent historical events in arthropods. We also discuss the impact of these studies on the current programme of taxonomy based on DNA bar-coding.

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