Systematics and evolution of the subfamily Gerbillinae (Mammalia, Rodentia, Muridae)

Chevret P. ; Dobigny G. (2005)


Although they represent a quarter of the mammalian species, the evolutionary relationships among as well as within, the main murid lineages are still controversial. The subfamily Gerbillinae is no exception as previous studies based on morphological, karyotypical, and allozyme characters are highly incongruent. Here, we present the first molecular phylogeny for gerbils based on cytochrome b and 12S rRNA mitochondrial genes. Results are largely congruent between the two genes as well as with the concatenated data set with most of the nodes being well-supported. Based on the topologies retrieved here, we (1) propose the identification of three main clades, (2) support the split of Tatera genus into an Asian and an African group, the latter including Gerbillurus species, and (3) provide some evidence towards the inaccuracy of subgeneric divisions within both Gerbillus and Meriones. In addition, the sharp contrast between the genetic characters and morphological data sets suggest high levels of convergence, probably as a result of strong environmental constraints imposed on these rodents adapted to arid and semi-arid regions. Finally, molecular datings for the various cladogenetic events are in good agreement with the known gerbilline fossil record and support an African origin with subsequent migrations to Asia. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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