Despite their ecological significance as decomposers and their evolutionary significance as the most speciose eusocial insect group outside the Hymenoptera, termite (Blattodea: Termitoidae or Isoptera) evolutionary relationships have yet to be well resolved. Previous morphological and molecular analyses strongly conflict at the family level and are marked by poor support for backbone nodes. A mitochondrial (mt) genome phylogeny of termites was produced to test relationships between the recognised termite families, improve nodal support and test the phylogenetic utility of rare genomic changes found in the termite mt genome. Complete mt genomes were sequenced for 7 of the 9 extant termite families with additional representatives of each of the two most speciose families Rhinotermitidae (3 of 7 subfamilies) and Termitidae (3 of 8 subfamilies). The mt genome of the well supported sister-group of termites, the subsocial cockroach Cryptocercus, was also sequenced. A highly supported tree of termite relationships was produced by all analytical methods and data treatment approaches, however the relationship of the termites+Cryptocercus clade to other cockroach lineages was highly affected by the strong nucleotide compositional bias found in termites relative to other dictyopterans. The phylogeny supports previously proposed suprafamilial termite lineages, the Euisoptera and Neoisoptera, a later derived Kalotermitidae as sister group of the Neoisoptera and a monophyletic clade of dampwood (Stolotermitidae, Archotermopsidae) and harvester termites (Hodotermitidae). In contrast to previous termite phylogenetic studies, nodal supports were very high for family-level relationships within termites. Two rare genomic changes in the mt genome control region were found to be molecular synapomorphies for major clades. An elongated stem-loop structure defined the clade Polyphagidae + (Cryptocercus+termites), and a further series of compensatory base changes in this stem-loop is synapomorphic for the Neoisoptera. The complicated repeat structures first identified in Reticulitermes, composed of short (A-type) and long (B-type repeats) defines the clade Heterotermitinae+Termitidae, while the secondary loss of A-type repeats is synapomorphic for the non-macrotermitine Termitidae.
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