Phylogeography and Pleistocene demographic history of the endangered marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) from the Río de la Plata Basin

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Abstract

The marsh deer is the largest neotropical cervid with morphological and ecological adaptations to wetlands and riparian habitats. Historically, this now endangered species occupied habitats along the major river basins in South America, ranging from southern Amazonia into northern Argentina to the Paraná river delta. This particularly close association with wetlands makes marsh deer an excellent species for studying the effects of Pleistocene climatic changes on their demographic and phylogeographic patterns. We examined mitochondrial DNA variation in 127 marsh deer from 4 areas distributed throughout the Río de la Plata basin. We found 17 haplotypes in marsh deer from Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina that differed by 1-8 substitutions in a 601 bp fragment of mitochondrial control region sequence, and 486 bp of cytochrome b revealed only 3 variable sites that defined 4 haplotypes. Phylogeny and distribution of control region haplotypes suggest that populations close to the Pantanal area in central Brazil underwent a rapid population expansion and that this occurred approximately 28,000-25,000 years BP. Paleoclimatic data from this period suggests that there was a dramatic increase for precipitation in the medium latitudes in South America and these conditions may have fostered marsh deer's population growth.

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