Hierarchical analysis of variation in the mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene among Hymenoptera

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Nucleotide sequences from a 434-bp region of the 16S rRNA gene were analyzed for 65 taxa of Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, parasitoid wasps, sawflies) to examine the patterns of variation within the gene fragment and the taxonomic levels for which it shows maximum utility in phylogeny estimation. A hierarchical approach was adopted in the study through comparison of levels of sequence variation among taxa at different taxonomic levels. As previously reported for many holometabolous insects, the 16S data reported here for Hymenoptera are highly AT-rich and exhibit strong site-to- site variation in substitution rate. More precise estimates of the shape parameter (α) of the gamma distribution and the proportion of invariant sites were obtained in this study by employing a reference phylogeny and utilizing maximum-likelihood estimation. The effectiveness of this approach to recovering expected phylogenies of selected hymenopteran taxa has been tested against the use of maximum parsimony. This study finds that the 16S gene is most informative for phylogenetic analysis at two different levels: among closely related species or populations, and among tribes, subfamilies, and families. Maximization of the phylogenetic signal extracted from the 16S gene at higher taxonomic levels may require consideration of the base composition bias and the site-to-site rate variation in a maximum-likelihood framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1728-1743
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Hymenoptera
  • Insects
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Molecular phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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