Patterns of speciation in the yucca moths: Parallel species radiations within the Tegeticula yuccasella species complex

David M. Althoff, Kari A. Segraves, James Leebens-Mack, Olle Pellmyr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The interaction between yuccas and yucca moths has been central to understanding the origin and loss of obligate mutualism and mutualism reversal. Previous systematic research using mtDNA sequence data and characters associated with genitalic morphology revealed that a widespread pollinator species in the genus Tegeticula was in fact a complex of pollinator species that differed in host use and the placement of eggs into yucca flowers. Within this mutualistic clade two nonpollinaring "cheater" species evolved. Cheaters feed on yucca seeds but lack the tentacular mouthparts necessary for yucca pollination. Previous work suggested that the species complex formed via a rapid radiation within the last several million years. In this study, we use an expanded mtDNA sequence data set and AFLP markers to examine the phylogenetic relationships among this rapidly diverging clade of moths and compare these relationships to patterns in genitalic morphology. Topologies obtained from analyses of the mtDNA and AFLP data differed significantly. Both data sets, however, corroborated the hypothesis of a rapid species radiation and suggested that there were likely two independent species radiations. Morphological analyses based on oviposition habit produced species groupings more similar to the AFLP topology than the mtDNA topology and suggested the two radiations coincided with differences in oviposition habit. The evolution of cheating was reaffirmed to have evolved twice and the closest pollinating relative for one cheater species was identified by both mtDNA and AFLP markers. For the other cheater species, however, the closest pollinating relative remains ambiguous, and mtDNA, AFLP, and morphological data suggest this cheater species may be diverged based on host use. Much of the divergence in the species complex can be explained by geographic isolation associated with the evolution of two oviposition habits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-410
Number of pages13
JournalSystematic Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • AFLP
  • Coevolution
  • Host use
  • Parallel species radiation
  • Yucca moths
  • mtDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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