Estimation of primate speciation dates using local molecular clocks.
Protein-coding genes of the mitochondrial genomes from 31 mammalian species were analyzed to estimate the speciation dates within primates and also between rats and mice. Three calibration points were used based on paleontological data: one at 20-25 MYA for the hominoid/cercopithecoid divergence, one at 53-57 MYA for the cetacean/artiodactyl divergence, and the third at 110-130 MYA for the metatherian/eutherian divergence. Both the nucleotide and the amino acid sequences were analyzed, producing conflicting results. The global molecular clock was clearly violated for both the nucleotide and the amino acid data. Models of local clocks were implemented using maximum likelihood, allowing different evolutionary rates for some lineages while assuming rate constancy in others. Surprisingly, the highly divergent third codon positions appeared to contain phylogenetic information and produced more sensible estimates of primate divergence dates than did the amino acid sequences. Estimated dates varied considerably depending on the data type, the calibration point, and the substitution model but differed little among the four tree topologies used. We conclude that the calibration derived from the primate fossil record is too recent to be reliable; we also point out a number of problems in date estimation when the molecular clock does not hold. Despite these obstacles, we derived estimates of primate divergence dates that were well supported by the data and were generally consistent with the paleontological record. Estimation of the mouse-rat divergence date, however, was problematic.
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