The origins and radiation of Australian Coptotermes termites: From rainforest to desert dwellers

Timothy R.C. Lee, Stephen L. Cameron, Theodore Evans, Simon Y. W. Ho, Nathan Lo

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23 Citations (Scopus)


The termite genus Coptotermes (Rhinotermitidae) is found in Asia, Africa, Central/South America and Australia, with greatest diversity in Asia. Some Coptotermes species are amongst the world’s most damaging invasive termites, but the genus is also significant for containing the most sophisticated mound-building termites outside the family Termitidae. These mound-building Coptotermes occur only in Australia. Despite its economic and evolutionary significance, the biogeographic history of the genus has not been well investigated, nor has the evolution of the Australian mound-building species. We present here the first phylogeny of the Australian Coptotermes to include representatives from all described species. We combined our new data with previously generated data to estimate the first phylogeny to include representatives from all continents where the genus is found. We also present the first estimation of divergence dates during the evolution of the genus. We found the Australian Coptotermes to be monophyletic and most closely related to the Asian Coptotermes, with considerable genetic diversity in some Australian taxa possibly representing undescribed species. The Australian mound-building species did not form a monophyletic clade. Our ancestral state reconstruction analysis indicated that the ancestral Australian Coptotermes was likely to have been a tree nester, and that mound-building behaviour has arisen multiple times. The Australian Coptotermes were found to have diversified ∼13 million years ago, which plausibly matches with the narrowing of the Arafura Sea allowing Asian taxa to cross into Australia. The first diverging Coptotermes group was found to be African, casting doubt on the previously raised hypothesis that the genus has an Asian origin.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


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