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Open Access Research article

Incomplete concerted evolution and reproductive isolation at the rDNA locus uncovers nine cryptic species within Anopheles longirostris from Papua New Guinea

David E Alquezar1, Stephane Hemmerter1, Robert D Cooper2 and Nigel W Beebe34*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for the Biotechnology of Infectious Disease, University of Technology, Sydney. Australia

2 Australian Army Malaria Institute, Brisbane, Australia

3 School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, 4072, Australia

4 CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, EcoSciences Precinct, Dutton Park, Queensland, 4102, Australia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:392  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-392

Published: 24 December 2010



Nuclear ribosomal DNA (rDNA) genes and transcribed spacers are highly utilized as taxonomic markers in metazoans despite the lack of a cohesive understanding of their evolution. Here we follow the evolution of the rDNA second internal transcribed spacer (ITS2) and the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome oxidase I subunit in the malaria mosquito Anopheles longirostris from Papua New Guinea (PNG). This morphospecies inhabits a variety of ecological environments indicating that it may comprise a complex of morphologically indistinguishable species. Using collections from over 70 sites in PNG, the mtDNA was assessed via direct DNA sequencing while the ITS2 was assessed at three levels - crude sequence variation through restriction digest, intragenomic copy variant organisation (homogenisation) through heteroduplex analysis and DNA sequencing via cloning.


Genetic evaluation of over 300 individuals revealed that A. longirostris comprises eight ITS2 PCR-RFLP genotypes and nine ITS2 heteroduplex genotypes showing distinct copy variant organization profiles after PCR amplification. Seven of these nine genotypes were found to be sympatric with other genotypes. Phylogenetic analysis of cloned ITS2 PCR products and mtDNA COI confirmed all nine clades with evidence of reproductive isolation at the rDNA locus. Compensatory base changes in the ITS2 secondary structure or in pseudoknots were absent when closely related species were assessed. Individuals from each ITS2 genotype showed the same copy variant heteroduplex profile suggesting that the rDNA array is fixed within each genotype.


The centromere-proximal position of the rDNA array in Anopheles mosquitoes has probably reduced interchromosomal recombination leaving intrachromosomal events responsible for the observed pattern of concerted evolution we see in these mosquitoes. The stability of these intragenomic ITS2 copy variants within individuals and interbreeding populations suggests that rDNA is moving as a single evolutionary unit through natural populations to fixation and has provided a complementary diagnostic tool to the restriction digest for studying genetic discontinuities and species boundaries. In this, the utility of the ITS2 as a universal taxonomic marker is probably contingent on several factors pertaining to spacer dimensions and the genomic location of the rDNA array with respect to recombination and proximity to regions potentially under selection.