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Research Abstracts Online
January 2009 - March 2010

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Biological Sciences
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

PI: Robert M. Zink

A Multi-gene Test of mtDNA Patterns: A Case Study in Phylogeography of the Eurasian Nuthatch

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has greatly contributed to the knowledge of phylogeography during the past two decades. A problem with mtDNA is that it may provide too narrow a window into the evolutionary history of species. This problem could be overcome by using multiple independent genes, but no one really knows how much more insight we can gain from multiple genes compared to solely using mtDNA.

This project uses empirical and simulated DNA sequence data to compare the performances of mtDNA and multiple nuclear genes in revealing the biogeographical history of the Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea). This widespread bird species has three distinct mtDNA lineages across the Palearctic, including the Caucasus and western and eastern Eurasia. Thus, this study provides a good chance to clarify whether a multilocus approach can improve or overturn mtDNA-based phylogeographical knowledge. Furthermore, the phylogenetic status of the isolated Caucasus nuthatch population could be important for conservation, but this is still uncertain. The researchers are using mtDNA and 13 nuclear loci to estimate the demographical parameters associated with the origin of this population. In addition, they use simulated sequence matching the characteristics of empirical data to assess of resolution of their approach and compare these two types of genetic markers.

Group Member

Chih-Ming Huang, Graduate Student