Previous research has shown that members of the unisexual hybrid complex of the genus Ambystoma possess a mitochondrial genome that is unrelated to their nuclear parental species, but the origin of this mitochondrion has remained unclear. We used a 744-bp fragment of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b within a comparative phylogenetic framework to infer the maternal ancestor of this unisexual lineage. By examining a broader range of species than has previously been compared, we were able to uncover a recent maternal ancestor to this complex. Unexpectedly, Ambystoma barbouri, a species whose nuclear DNA has not been identified in the unisexuals, was found to be the recent maternal ancestor of the individuals examined through the discovery of a shared mtDNA haplotype between the unisexuals and A. barbouri. Based on a combination of sequence data and glacial patterning, we estimate that the unisexual lineage probably originated less than 25 000 years ago. In addition, all unisexuals examined showed extremely similar mtDNA sequences and the resultant phylogeny was consistent with a single origin for this lineage. These results confirm previous suggestions that the unisexual Ambystoma complex was formed from a hybridization event in which the nuclear DNA of the original maternal species was subsequently lost.
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