Early studies of animal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) assumed that nucleotide sequence variation was neutral. Recent analyses of sequences from a variety of taxa have brought the validity of this assumption into question. Here we review analytical methods used to test for neutrality and evidence for nonneutral evolution of animal mtDNA. Evaluations of mitochondrial haplotypes in different nuclear backgrounds identified differences in performance, typically favoring coevolved mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. Experimental manipulations also indicated that certain haplotypes have an advantage over others; however, biotic and historical effects and cyto-nuclear interactions make it difficult to assess the relative importance of nonneutral factors. Statistical analyses of sequences have been used to argue for nonneutrality of mtDNA; however, rejection of neutral patterns in the published literature is common but not predominant. Patterns of replacement and synonymous substitutions within and between species identified a trend toward an excess of replacement mutations within species. This pattern has been viewed as support for the existence of mildly deleterious mutations within species; however, other alternative explanations that can produce similar patterns cannot be eliminated.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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