What are the roles of taxon sampling and model fit in tests of cyto-nuclear discordance using avian mitogenomic data?

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Conflicts between nuclear and mitochondrial phylogenies have led to uncertainty for some relationships within the tree of life. These conflicts have led some to question the value of mitochondrial DNA in phylogenetics now that genome-scale nuclear data can be readily obtained. However, since mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited and does not recombine, its phylogeny should be closer to the species tree. Additionally, its rapid evolutionary rate may drive accumulation of mutations along short internodes where relevant information from nuclear loci may be limited. In this study, we examine the mitochondrial phylogeny of Cavitaves to elucidate its congruence with recently published nuclear phylogenies of this group of birds. Cavitaves includes the orders Trogoniformes (trogons), Bucerotiformes (hornbills), Coraciiformes (kingfishers and allies), and Piciformes (woodpeckers and allies). We hypothesized that sparse taxon sampling in previously published mitochondrial trees was responsible for apparent cyto-nuclear discordance. To test this hypothesis, we assembled 27 additional Cavitaves mitogenomes and estimated phylogenies using seven different taxon sampling schemes ranging from five to 42 ingroup species. We also tested the role that partitioning and model choice played in the observed discordance. Our analyses demonstrated that improved taxon sampling could resolve many of the disagreements. Similarly, partitioning was valuable in improving congruence with the topology from nuclear phylogenies, though the model used to generate the mitochondrial phylogenies had less influence. Overall, our results suggest that the mitochondrial tree is trustworthy when partitioning is used with suitable taxon sampling.

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Molecular phylogenetics and evolution

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