An Assessment of the Systematics of Arvicanthine Rodents Using Mitochondrial DNA Sequences: Evolutionary and Biogeographical Implications

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Mitochondrial DNA sequences of cytochrome b (1140-bp), 12S (375-bp) and 16S (475-bp) ribosomal RNA gene fragments were used to investigate the phylogenetic relationships of a group of African rodents referred as the arvicanthines (Family Muridae, Subfamily Murinae). A total of 49 specimens including all seven genera and 15 of the 24 arvicanthine species currently recognized as well as outgroups from the subfamily Acomyinae, Arvicolinae, Gerbillinae, Murinae and Otomyinae were examined. Our molecular data support the monophyly of the African arvicanthine genera and their partition into three distinct lineages: one composed of Arvicanthis, Mylomys and Pelomys, one composed of Desmomys and Rhabdomys, and one represented by Lemniscomys. The Indian arvicanthine Golunda is external to this clade and is part of a larger clade, together with the African arvicanthines and other African Murinae such as Aethomys, Dasymys, Grammomys, and Hybomys, for which we propose the use of the tribal name Arvicanthini. The basal relationships within this set of species are poorly resolved, suggesting the possibility of a rapid radiation. Calibration based on the fossil record suggests that this radiative event would have taken place at about 8.0 Mya (Million years ago). The identification of the Otomyinae as the sister-taxon to Arvicanthini implies that the former are true murines and should therefore be given only tribal rank within the Murinae.

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