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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Signals of demographic expansion in Drosophila virilis

Patricia M Mirol14*, Jarkko Routtu2, Anneli Hoikkala2 and Roger K Butlin3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biology, The University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

2 Department of Biological and Environmental Science, P.O. Box 35, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland

3 Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

4 Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, CONICET, Angel Gallardo 470, C1405DJR, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-59

Published: 25 February 2008



The pattern of genetic variation within and among populations of a species is strongly affected by its phylogeographic history. Analyses based on putatively neutral markers provide data from which past events, such as population expansions and colonizations, can be inferred. Drosophila virilis is a cosmopolitan species belonging to the virilis group, where divergence times between different phylads go back to the early Miocene. We analysed mitochondrial DNA sequence variation among 35 Drosophila virilis strains covering the species' range in order to detect demographic events that could be used to understand the present characteristics of the species, as well as its differences from other members of the group.


Drosophila virilis showed very low nucleotide diversity with haplotypes distributed in a star-like network, consistent with a recent world-wide exponential expansion possibly associated either with domestication or post-glacial colonization. All analyses point towards a rapid population expansion. Coalescence models support this interpretation. The central haplotype in the network, which could be interpreted as ancestral, is widely distributed and gives no information about the geographical origin of the population expansion. The species showed no geographic structure in the distribution of mitochondrial haplotypes, in contrast to results of a recent microsatellite-based analysis.


The lack of geographic structure and the star-like topology depicted by the D. virilis haplotypes indicate a pattern of global demographic expansion, probably related to human movements, although this interpretation cannot be distinguished from a selective sweep in the mitochondrial DNA until nuclear sequence data become available. The particular behavioural traits of this species, including weak species-discrimination and intraspecific mate choice exercised by the females, can be understood from this perspective.