, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 144-154

The Old World Sparrows (Genus Passer) Phylogeography and Their Relative Abundance of Nuclear mtDNA Pseudogenes

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Abstract

The phylogenetic relationships of genus Passer (Old World sparrows) have been studied with species covering their complete world living range. Mitochondrial (mt) cyt b genes and pseudogenes have been analyzed, the latter being strikingly abundant in genus Passer compared with other studied songbirds. The significance of these Passer pseudogenes is presently unclear. The mechanisms by which mt cyt b genes become pseudogenes after nuclear translocation are discussed together with their mode of evolution, i.e., transition/transversion mitochondrial ratio is decreased in the nucleus, as is the constraint for variability at the three codon positions. However, the skewed base composition according to codon position (in 1st position the percentage is very similar for the four bases, in 2nd position there are fewer percentage of A and G and more percentage of T, and in 3rd codon position fewer percentage of G and T and is very rich in A and C) is maintained in the translocated nuclear pseudogenes. Different nuclear internal mechanisms and/or selective pressures must exist for explaining this nuclear/mitochondrial differential DNA base evolutive variability. Also, the phylogenetic usefulness of pseudogenes for defining relationships between closely related lineages is stressed. The analyses suggest that the primitive genus Passer species comes from Africa, the Cape sparrow being the oldest: P. hispaniolensis italiae is more likely conspecific to P. domesticus than to P. hispaniolensis. Also, Passer species are not included within weavers or Estrildinae or Emberizinae, as previously suggested. European and American Emberizinae sparrows are closely related to each other and seem to be the earliest species that radiated among the studied songbirds (all in the Miocene Epoch).

Received: 29 November 2000 / Accepted: 22 March 2001