Fourteen nuclear genes provide phylogenetic resolution for difficult nodes in the turtle tree of life

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2010 Jun;55(3):1189-94. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2009.11.005. Epub 2009 Nov 12.


Advances in molecular biology have expanded our understanding of patterns of evolution and our ability to infer phylogenetic relationships. Despite many applications of molecular methods in attempts at resolving the evolutionary relationships among the major clades of turtles, some nodes in the tree have proved to be extremely problematic and have remained unresolved. In this study, we use 14 nuclear loci to provide an in depth look at several of these troublesome nodes and infer the systematic relationships among 11 of the 14 turtle families. We find strong support for two of the most problematic nodes in the deep phylogeny of turtles that have traditionally defied resolution. In particular, we recover strong support for a sister relationship between the Emydidae and the monotypic bigheaded-turtle, Platysternon megacephalum. We also find strong support for a clade consisting of sea turtles, mud and musk turtles, and snapping turtles. Within this clade, snapping turtles (Chelydridae) and mud/musk turtles (Kinosternidae) are sister taxa, again with strong support. Our results emphasize the utility of multi-locus datasets in phylogenetic analyses of difficult problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Turtles / classification*
  • Turtles / genetics