Testing convergent evolution in auditory processing genes between echolocating mammals and the aye-aye, a percussive-foraging primate

Richard J. Bankoff, Michael Jerjos, Baily Hohman, M. Elise Lauterbur, Logan Kistler, George H. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Several taxonomically distinct mammalian groups-certain microbats and cetaceans (e.g., dolphins)-share both morphological adaptations related to echolocation behavior and strong signatures of convergent evolution at the amino acid level across seven genes related to auditory processing. Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) are nocturnal lemurs with a specialized auditory processing system. Aye-ayes tap rapidly along the surfaces of trees, listening to reverberations to identify the mines of wood-boring insect larvae; this behavior has been hypothesized to functionally mimic echolocation. Here we investigated whether there are signals of convergence in auditory processing genes between aye-ayes and known mammalian echolocators. We developed a computational pipeline (Basic Exon Assembly Tool) that produces consensus sequences for regions of interest from shotgun genomic sequencing data for nonmodel organisms without requiring de novo genome assembly. We reconstructed complete coding region sequences for the seven convergent echolocating bat-dolphin genes for aye-ayes and another lemur. We compared sequences from these two lemurs in a phylogenetic framework with those of bat and dolphin echolocators and appropriate nonecholocating outgroups. Our analysis reaffirms the existence of amino acid convergence at these loci among echolocating bats and dolphins; some methods also detected signals of convergence between echolocating bats and both mice and elephants. However, we observed no significant signal of amino acid convergence between aye-ayes and echolocating bats and dolphins, suggesting that aye-aye tap-foraging auditory adaptations represent distinct evolutionary innovations. These results are also consistent with a developing consensus that convergent behavioral ecology does not reliably predict convergent molecular evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1978-1989
Number of pages12
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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