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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Nov;65(2):631-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2012.07.018. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Eight independent nuclear genes support monophyly of the plovers: the role of mutational variance in gene trees.

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Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2C6.


Molecular phylogenies of Charadriiformes based on mtDNA genes and one to three nuclear loci do not support the traditional placement of Pluvialis in the plovers (Charadriidae), assigning it instead to oystercatchers, stilts, and avocets (Haematopodidae and Recurvirostridae). To investigate this hypothesis of plover paraphyly, the relationships among Pluvialis and closely related families were revisited by sequencing two individuals of all taxa except Peltohyas for eight independent single copy nuclear protein-coding loci selected for their informativeness at this phylogenetic depth. The species tree estimated jointly with the gene trees in the coalescent programme (*)BEAST strongly supported plover monophyly, as did Bayesian analysis of the concatenated matrix. The data sets that supported plover paraphyly in Baker et al. (2007) and Fain and Houde (2007) reflect two to four independent gene histories, and thus discordance with the plover monophyly species tree might have arisen by chance through stochastic mutational variance. For the plovers we conclude there is no conclusive evidence of coalescent variance from ancient incomplete lineage sorting across the interior branch leading to Pluvialis in the species tree. Rather, earlier studies seem have been misled by faster evolving mtDNA genes with high mutational variance, and a few nuclear genes that had low resolving power at the Pluvialis sister group level. These findings are of general relevance in avian phylogenetics, as they show that careful attention needs to be paid to the number and the phylogenetic informativeness of genes required to obtain accurate estimates of the species tree, especially where there is mutational heterogeneity in gene trees.

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