Phylogenetic evidence of mitochondrial DNA introgression among pocket gophers in New Mexico (family Geomyidae)


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Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in the cytochrome b gene was determined for two divergent taxa of pocket gophers, Thomomys bottae actuosus and T. b. ruidosae. These two taxa hybridize in a narrow contact zone, but introgression of nuclear markers such as allozymes or chromosomes does not extend much beyond the hybrid zone (Patton et al. 1979). We found that despite their distinctness, the two subspecies shared very similar mtDNA haplotypes. By a comparison of phylogenetic histories derived from nuclear markers (allozymes) and from mtDNA haplotypes sampled in different populations of T. bottae from New Mexico, we show that apparent similarity is due to an introgression of T. b. ruidosae mtDNA into T. b. actuosus nuclear background. Evidence of introgression is not limited to the present-day contact zone between these two taxa, but extends at least 75 km away from it. The actuosus haplotype coexists along with the ruidosae mtDNA in the Gallinas Mts., which are inhabited by otherwise pure T. b. actuosus, while further north only typical actuosus haplotypes were detected. Of several potential mechanisms which could lead to such a geographical pattern of variation, we argue that a combination of range shifts due to climatic fluctuations, and genetic drift are most likely. Horizontal gene transfers due to hybridization are historical events which seem rather common among pocket gophers. Although they can be identified with careful phylogenetic study using independent data sets, the potential for misinterpreting a gene tree as an organismal tree is great in this and other groups of animals.