Mutation and Evolutionary Rates in Adélie Penguins from the Antarctic
Precise estimations of molecular rates are fundamental to our understanding of the processes of evolution. In principle, mutation and evolutionary rates for neutral regions of the same species are expected to be equal. However, a number of recent studies have shown that mutation rates estimated from pedigree material are much faster than evolutionary rates measured over longer time periods. To resolve this apparent contradiction, we have examined the hypervariable region (HVR I) of the mitochondrial genome using families of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) from the Antarctic. We sequenced 344 bps of the HVR I from penguins comprising 508 families with 915 chicks, together with both their parents. All of the 62 germline heteroplasmies that we detected in mothers were also detected in their offspring, consistent with maternal inheritance. These data give an estimated mutation rate (μ) of 0.55 mutations/site/Myrs (HPD 95% confidence interval of 0.29–0.88 mutations/site/Myrs) after accounting for the persistence of these heteroplasmies and the sensitivity of current detection methods. In comparison, the rate of evolution (k) of the same HVR I region, determined using DNA sequences from 162 known age sub-fossil bones spanning a 37,000-year period, was 0.86 substitutions/site/Myrs (HPD 95% confidence interval of 0.53 and 1.17). Importantly, the latter rate is not statistically different from our estimate of the mutation rate. These results are in contrast to the view that molecular rates are time dependent.