Comparison of phylogenetic signal between male genitalia and non-genital characters in insect systematics. Academic Article uri icon


  • It is generally accepted that male genitalia evolve more rapidly and divergently relative to non-genital traits due to sexual selection, but there is little quantitative comparison of the pattern of evolution between these character sets. Moreover, despite the fact that genitalia are still among the most widely used characters in insect systematics, there is an idea that the rate of evolution is too rapid for genital characters to be useful in forming clades. Based on standard measures of fit used in cladistic analyses, we compare levels of homoplasy and synapomorphy between genital and non-genital characters of published data sets and demonstrate that phylogenetic signal between these two character sets is statistically similar. This pattern is found consistently across different insect orders at different taxonomic hierarchical levels. We argue that the fact that male genitalia are under sexual selection and thus diverge rapidly does not necessarily equate with the lack of phylogenetic signal, because characters that evolve by descent with modification make appropriate characters for a phylogenetic analysis, regardless of the rate of evolution. We conclude that male genitalia are a composite character consisting of different components diverging separately, which make them ideal characters for phylogenetic analyses, providing information for resolving varying levels of hierarchy. The Willi Hennig Society 2009.

published proceedings

  • Cladistics

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Song, H., & Bucheli, S. R.

citation count

  • 79

complete list of authors

  • Song, Hojun||Bucheli, Sibyl R

publication date

  • February 2010