Background: Despite apparently abundant amounts of observable variation and species diversity, the order Lepidoptera exhibits a morphological homogeneity that has provided only a limited number of taxonomic characters and led to widespread use of nucleotides for inferring relationships. This study aims to characterize and develop methods to quantify the value of priority gene regions designated for Lepidoptera molecular systematics. In particular, I assess how the DNA barcode segment of the mitochondrial COI gene performs across a broad temporal range given its number one position of priority, most sequenced status, and the conflicting opinions on its phylogenetic performance. Methodology/Principal Findings: Gene regions commonly sequenced for Lepidoptera phylogenetics were scored using multiple measures across three categories: practicality, which includes universality of primers and sequence quality; phylogenetic utility; and phylogenetic signal. I found that alternative measures within a category often appeared correlated, but high scores in one category did not necessarily translate into high scores in another. The DNA barcode was easier to sequence than other genes, and had high scores for utility but low signal above the genus level. Conclusions/Significance: Given limited financial resources and time constraints, careful selection of gene regions for molecular phylogenetics is crucial to avoid wasted effort producing partially informative data. This study introduces an approach to assessing the value of gene regions prior to the initiation of new studies and presents empirical results to help guide future selections.
- coding nuclear genes,
- elongation factor-1-alpha,
- noctuoidea insecta,
- sequence alignment,
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/johnjames_wilson/5/