Phylogenetic comparisons of the different mammalian genetic transmission elements (mtDNA, X-, Y-, and autosomal DNA) is a powerful approach for understanding the process of speciation in nature. Through such comparisons the unique inheritance pathways of each genetic element and gender-biased processes can link genomic structure to the evolutionary process, especially among lineages which have recently diversified, in which genetic isolation may be incomplete. Bulldog bats of the genus Noctilio are an exemplar lineage, being a young clade, widely distributed, and exhibiting unique feeding ecologies. In addition, currently recognized species are paraphyletic with respect to the mtDNA gene tree and contain morphologically identifiable clades that exhibit mtDNA divergences as great as among many species. To test taxonomic hypotheses and understand the contribution of hybridization to the extant distribution of genetic diversity in Noctilio, we used phylogenetic, coalescent stochastic modeling, and divergence time estimates using sequence data from cytochrome-b, cytochrome c oxidase-I, zinc finger Y, and zinc finger X, as well as evolutionary reconstructions based on amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) data. No evidence of ongoing hybridization between the two currently recognized species was identified. However, signatures of an ancient mtDNA capture were recovered in which an mtDNA lineage of one species was captured early in the noctilionid radiation. Among subspecific mtDNA clades, which were generally coincident with morphology and statistically definable as species, signatures of ongoing hybridization were observed in sex chromosome sequences and AFLP. Divergence dating of genetic elements corroborates the diversification of extant Noctilio beginning about 3 Ma, with ongoing hybridization between mitochondrial lineages separated by 2.5 myr. The timeframe of species' divergence within Noctilio supports the hypothesis that shifts in the dietary strategies of gleaning insects (N. albiventris) or fish (N. leporinus) are among the most rapid instances of dietary evolution observed in mammals. This study illustrates the complex evolutionary dynamics shaping gene pools in nature, how comparisons of genetic elements can serve for understanding species boundaries, and the complex considerations for accurate taxonomic assignment.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.