Spiders, scorpions, mites and ticks (chelicerates) form one of the most diverse groups of arthropods on land, but their origin and times of diversification are not yet established. We estimated, for the first time, the molecular divergence times for these chelicerates using complete mitochondrial sequences from 25 taxa. All mitochondrial genes were evaluated individually or after concatenation. Sequences belonging to three missing genes (ND3, 6, and tRNA-Asp) from three taxa, as well as the faster-evolving ribosomal RNAs (12S and 16S), tRNAs, and the third base of each codon from 11 protein-coding genes (PCGs) (COI-III, CYTB, ATP8, 6, ND1-2, 4L, and 4-5), were identified and removed. The remaining concatenated sequences from 11 PCGs produced a completely resolved phylogenetic tree and confirmed that all chelicerates are monophyletic. Removing the third base from each codon was essential to resolve the phylogeny, which allowed deep divergence times to be calculated using three nodes calibrated with upper and lower priors. Our estimates indicate that the orders and classes of spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks diversified in the late Paleozoic, much earlier than previously reported from fossil date estimates. The divergence time estimated for ticks suggests that their first land hosts could have been amphibians rather than reptiles. Using molecular data, we separated the spider-scorpion clades and estimated their divergence times at 397 ± 23 million years ago. Algae, fungi, plants, and animals, including insects, were well established on land when these chelicerates diversified. Future analyses, involving mitochondrial sequences from additional chelicerate taxa and the inclusion of nuclear genes (or entire genomes) will provide a more complete picture of the evolution of the Chelicerata, the second most abundant group of animals on earth.
Evolution of Chelicerata Mitochondrial phylogeny Divergence time estimates Multidivtime r8s Analysis
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The research was supported in part by the Davies, Fisher, and Eckes endowment in biological control to Marjorie A. Hoy.
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