Planipapillus, a clade of onychophorans from southeastern Australia, exhibits substantial chromosomal variation. In the context of a robust phylogeny based on nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data, we evaluate models of chromosomal evolution and speciation that differ in the roles assigned to selection, mutation, and drift. Permutation tests suggest that all chromosome rearrangements in the clade have been centric fusions and, on the basis of parsimony and maximum-likelihood methods with independent estimates of branch lengths, we conclude that at least 31 centric fusions have been fixed in Planipapillus. A likelihood-ratio test approach, which is independent of our point estimates of ancestral states, rejects an evolutionary model in which the mutation rate is constant and centric fusions are effectively neutral. In contrast to the nucleotide sequence data, which are consistent with neutrality and rate constancy, centric fusions in Planipapillus are underdominant, spontaneous fusion rates vary among lineages, or both. We predict an inverse relationship between rates of chromosomal evolution and historical population size. Chromosomal evolution may play a role in speciation in Planipapillus, both by interactions between centric fusions with monobrachial homology and by the accumulation of multiple weakly underdominant fusions.
Corresponding Editor: J. Huelsenbeck