RAD-seq phylogenomics recovers a well-resolved phylogeny of a rapid radiation of mutualistic and antagonistic yucca moths

Clive T. Darwell, David M. Rivers, David M. Althoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The interaction between yucca plants and yucca moths has been one of the focal model systems investigated in the study of pollination mutualism and coevolution, especially in terms of understanding the prevention of overexploitation by mutualist partners. Yuccas have the ability to assess the number of eggs placed by pollinators into their ovaries, and can preferentially abort those flowers that would have many moth larvae consuming yucca seeds. Previous phylogenetic research identified a rapid radiation of moth species that corresponded with shifts in the interaction with their host plants. These shifts led to the evolution of moth species that circumvent the egg detection method used by yuccas to limit seed damage. In particular, some pollinator species deposit their eggs so that they are undetectable by the plants, whereas other species are 'cheaters' that have lost the ability to pollinate, yet deposit eggs into developing fruit rather than flowers. The evolution of these new species happened so quickly that the phylogeny of the moths has remained unresolved despite repeated attempts with standard Sanger sequencing of mtDNA loci and AFLP marker generation. Here, we use extensive analyses of RAD-seq data to determine the phylogenetic relationships among yucca moth species. The results provide a robust phylogenetic framework that identifies the evolutionary relationships among shifts in egg-laying strategies, as well as determining the closest pollinating relatives to the cheater species. Based on the obtained phylogeny, a shift in egg-laying strategy that avoided the overexploitation regulatory mechanism used by yucca plants was a precursor for the evolution of two species with cheating behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)672-682
Number of pages11
JournalSystematic Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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