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Reconstructing the Phylogenetic History of Long-Term Effective Population Size and Life-History Traits Using Patterns of Amino Acid Replacement in Mitochondrial Genomes of Mammals and Birds

Nabholz, Benoit, Uwimana, Nicole, Lartillot, Nicolas
Genome biology and evolution 2013 v.5 no.7 pp. 1273-1290
amino acids, birds, body size, covariance, life history, mammals, mitochondria, mitochondrial genome, models, mutation, phylogeny, population genetics, population size, prediction
The nearly neutral theory, which proposes that most mutations are deleterious or close to neutral, predicts that the ratio of nonsynonymous over synonymous substitution rates (dN/dS), and potentially also the ratio of radical over conservative amino acid replacement rates (Kr/Kc), are negatively correlated with effective population size. Previous empirical tests, using life-history traits (LHT) such as body-size or generation-time as proxies for population size, have been consistent with these predictions. This suggests that large-scale phylogenetic reconstructions of dN/dS or Kr/Kc might reveal interesting macroevolutionary patterns in the variation in effective population size among lineages. In this work, we further develop an integrative probabilistic framework for phylogenetic covariance analysis introduced previously, so as to estimate the correlation patterns between dN/dS, Kr/Kc, and three LHT, in mitochondrial genomes of birds and mammals. Kr/Kc displays stronger and more stable correlations with LHT than does dN/dS, which we interpret as a greater robustness of Kr/Kc, compared with dN/dS, the latter being confounded by the high saturation of the synonymous substitution rate in mitochondrial genomes. The correlation of Kr/Kc with LHT was robust when controlling for the potentially confounding effects of nucleotide compositional variation between taxa. The positive correlation of the mitochondrial Kr/Kc with LHT is compatible with previous reports, and with a nearly neutral interpretation, although alternative explanations are also possible. The Kr/Kc model was finally used for reconstructing life-history evolution in birds and mammals. This analysis suggests a fairly large-bodied ancestor in both groups. In birds, life-history evolution seems to have occurred mainly through size reduction in Neoavian birds, whereas in placental mammals, body mass evolution shows disparate trends across subclades. Altogether, our work represents a further step toward a more comprehensive phylogenetic reconstruction of the evolution of life-history and of the population-genetics environment.