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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Rampant historical mitochondrial genome introgression between two species of green pond frogs, Pelophylax nigromaculatus and P. plancyi

Kui Liu1, Fang Wang1, Wei Chen1, Lihong Tu1, Mi-Sook Min2, Ke Bi3 and Jinzhong Fu3*

  • * Corresponding author: Jinzhong Fu

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 College of Life Sciences, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100048, China

2 College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-742, South Korea

3 Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:201  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-201

Published: 29 June 2010



Mitochondrial introgression may result in the mitochondrial genome of one species being replaced by that of another species without leaving any trace of past hybridization in its nuclear genome. Such introgression can confuse the species genealogy estimates and lead to absurd inferences of species history. We used a phylogenetic approach to explore the potential mitochondrial genome introgression event(s) between two closely related green pond frog species, Pelophylax nigromaculatus and P. plancyi.


DNA sequence data of one mitochondrial and two nuclear genes from an extensive sampling of the two species were collected, and the genealogies of the three genes were constructed and compared. While the two nuclear genes congruently showed mutual reciprocal monophyly of both species, the mitochondrial phylogeny separated a Korean P. nigromaculatus clade, a paraphyletic central China P. plancyi assemblage, and a large well-supported introgression clade. Within the introgression clade, the mitochondrial haplotypes of the two species were mixed together. This reticulated pattern can be most parsimoniously explained by an ancient mitochondrial introgression event from P. plancyi to P. nigromaculatus that occurred at least 1.36 MYA, followed by multiple recent introgression events from P. nigromaculatus back to P. plancyi within the last 0.63 MY. The re-constitution of previously co-adapted genomes in P. plancyi may be responsible for the recent rampant introgression events. The Korean P. nigromaculatus clade likely represents the only surviving "true" mitochondrial lineage of P. nigromaculatus, and the central China P. plancyi assemblage likely represents the "original" P. plancyi mitochondrial lineage. Refugia in the Korean Peninsula and central China may have played a significant role in preserving these ancient lineages.


The majority of individuals in the two species have either introgressed (P. nigromaculatus) or reclaimed (P. plancyi) mitochondrial genomes while no trace of past hybridization in their nuclear genomes was detected. Asymmetrical reproductive ability of hybrids and continuous backcrossing are likely responsible for the observed mitochondrial introgression. This case is unique in that it includes an ancient "forward" introgression and many recent "backward" introgressions, which re-constitutes the original nuclear and mitochondrial genomes of P. plancyi. This hybrid system provides an excellent opportunity to study cyto-nuclear interaction and co-adaptation.