Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 21–31

The Effects of Social Structure, Geographical Structure, and Population Size on the Evolution of Mitochondrial DNA: II. Molecular Clocks and the Lineage Sorting Period

  • Guy A.  Hoelzer
  • Joel  Wallman
  • Don J.  Melnick

DOI: 10.1007/PL00006359

Cite this article as:
Hoelzer, G., Wallman, J. & Melnick, D. J Mol Evol (1998) 47: 21. doi:10.1007/PL00006359


Evolutionary geneticists have increasingly used sequence variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as a source of historical information. However, conclusions based on these data remain tentative because a sufficiently clear understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of mtDNA has yet to be developed. In this paper we present the results of computer simulations designed to illustrate the effects of social structure, geographical structure, and population size on the rate of nucleotide substitution and lineage sorting of mtDNA. The model is based in part on the social structure of macaque monkeys. Simulated populations of females were divided into 25 social groups; the animals in each were distributed in a hierarchy of four dominance rank categories. The probabilities for offspring survivorship were varied among dominance ranks to reflect the fitness consequences of social structure. Population size was varied across runs from 100 to 300 females. The pattern of female migration was also varied to mimic either the island model or the stepping-stone model. All these variables are shown to affect the lineage sorting period (LSP), and certain combinations of parameter values can cause the retention of mtDNA polymorphisms for a very long time. In addition, the simulations exhibited a negative relationship between the LSP and substitution rate over a modest and realistic range of LSP values. An important implication of these results is that estimates of time since isolation based on the assumption of a constant molecular clock may be biased and unreliable.

Key words: Mitochondrial DNA — Molecular evolution — Population genetics — Molecular clock — Lineage sorting period 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guy A.  Hoelzer
    • 1
  • Joel  Wallman
    • 4
  • Don J.  Melnick
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Biology, University of Nevada Reno, 89557 USAUS
  2. 2.Department of Environment and Resource Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno, USAUS
  3. 3.Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, USAUS
  4. 4.The Harry Frank Guggenheim FoundationUS
  5. 5.Department of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Columbia UniversityUS
  6. 6.Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia UniversityUS

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