Gauging ages of tiger swallowtail butterflies using alternate SNP analyses

Oksana V. Vernygora, Erin O. Campbell, Nick V. Grishin, Felix A.H. Sperling, Julian R. Dupuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Divergence times underpin diverse evolutionary hypotheses, but conflicting age estimates across studies diminish the validity of such hypotheses. These conflicts have continued to grow as large genomics datasets become commonplace and analytical approaches proliferate. To provide more stable temporal intervals, age estimations should be interpreted in the context of both the type of data and analysis being used. Here, we use multispecies coalescent (MSC), concatenation-based, and categorical data transformation approaches on genome-wide SNP data to infer divergence ages within the Papilio glaucus group of tiger swallowtail butterflies in North America. While the SNP data supported previously recognized relationships within the group (P. multicaudata, ((P. eurymedon, P. rutulus), (P. appalachiensis, P. canadensis, P. glaucus))), estimated ages of divergence between the major lineages varied substantially among analyses. MSC produced wide credibility intervals particularly for deeper nodes, reflecting uncertainty in the coalescence times as a possible result of conflicting signal across gene trees. Concatenation, in contrast, gave narrower and more well-defined posterior distributions for the node ages; however, the higher precision of these time estimates is a likely artefact due to more simplistic underlying assumptions of this approach that do not account for conflict among gene trees. Transformed categorical data analysis gave the least precise and the most variable results, with its simple substitution model coupled with a relaxed clock tending to produce spurious results from large genome-wide datasets. While median node ages differed considerably between analyses (∼2 Mya between MSC and concatenation-based results), their corresponding credibility intervals nonetheless highlight common temporal patterns for deeper divergences in the group as well as finer-scale phylogeography. Age distributions across analyses support an origin of the group during the warm period of the early to mid-Pliocene. Late Pliocene climate aridification and cooling drove divergence between eastern and western groups that further diversified during the period of repeated Pleistocene glaciations. Our results provide a structured comparative assessment of divergence time estimates and evolutionary relationships in a well-studied group of butterflies, and support better understanding of analytical biases in divergence time estimation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107465
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Concatenation
  • Divergence times
  • Molecular dating
  • Multispecies coalescent
  • Papilio glaucus
  • Phylogenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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