Low Spontaneous Mutation Rate and Pleistocene Radiation of Pea Aphids


Accurate estimates of divergence times are essential to understand the evolutionary history of species. It allows linking evolutionary histories of the diverging lineages with past geological, climatic, and other changes in environment and shed light on the processes involved in speciation. The pea aphid radiation includes multiple host races adapted to different legume host plants. It is thought that diversification in this system occurred very recently, over the past 8,000–16,000 years. This young age estimate was used to link diversification in pea aphids to the onset of human agriculture, and led to the establishment of the pea aphid radiation as a model system in the study of speciation with gene flow. Here, we re-examine the age of the pea aphid radiation, by combining a mutation accumulation experiment with a genome-wide estimate of divergence between distantly related pea aphid host races. We estimate the spontaneous mutation rate for pea aphids as 2.7×10-10 per haploid genome per parthenogenic generation. Using this estimate of mutation rate and the genome-wide genetic differentiation observed between pea aphid host races, we show that the pea aphid radiation is much more ancient than assumed previously, predating Neolithic agriculture by several hundreds of thousands of years. Our results rule out human agriculture as the driver of diversification of the pea aphid radiation, and call for re-assessment of the role of allopatric isolation during Pleistocene climatic oscillations in divergence of the pea aphid complex.

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