Beerli, P., H. Hotz, E., and T. Uzzell. 1996. Geologically dated sea barriers calibrate a protein clock for Aegean water frogs. Evolution 50(4): 1676-1687.

Abstract -- Reliable estimates of phylogenetic relationships and divergence times are a crucial requirement for many evolutionary studies, but are usually difficult because fossils are scarce and their interpretation is often uncertain. Frogs are fresh water animals that generally are unable to cross salt water barriers (their skin is readily permeable to both salt and water). The geologically-determined ages of salt water barriers that isolate related frog populations thus provide an independent measure of the minimum date of genetic divergence between pairs of such populations. For the genetically well-studied western Palearctic water frogs (Rana esculenta group), the Aegean region provides an ideal area for determining the relationship between genetic divergence and time of spatial isolation, using a nested set of geologically- determined isolation times (12,000 y, 200,000 y, 1.8 My, 2-3 My, and 5.2 My).
Using 31 electrophoretic loci for 33 pairs of neighboring frog populations, a linear relationship between geologically determined isolation time and Hillis' modified Nei genetic distance was found: D*Nei= (0.040.01) + (0.100.01) isolation time [My] corresponding to an average divergence rate ("molecular clock" pace) of 0.10 D*Nei/My (0.10 DNei /My). This rate is in the range of previous estimates reported for protein electrophoretic data; the value is conservative because relatively few of the loci used are "fast evolvers" (13%; sAAT, ALB, EST-5, MPI). Removing these "fast evolvers" from the analysis results in 0.07 D*Nei/My (0.08DNei /My). The confidence limits for estimation of the divergence time given the genetic distance are large, but unusually narrow for this kind of study; they permit us to estimate divergence times during the Pliocene and Miocene. Few previous studies, including sequence analyses, have provided reasonable estimates of divergence time for the Pliocene. A test using the outgroup taxa Rana perezi and Rana saharica (also isolated for 5.2 My by the Strait of Gibraltar) fits the calibration well: observed genetic Nei distance D*Nei= 0.55, expected D*Nei= 0.56. The calculated divergence times, based on this absolute molecular clock, suggest a series of speciation events after the Messinian (5.2 My), possibly triggered by the rapid ecological changes accompanying the desiccation and refilling of the Mediterranean Basin.

Key words: rate of evolution, molecular clock, phylogeny, protein electrophoresis, frogs, Rana esculenta group, geology, Aegean region

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