Systematics and evolution of the African pygmy mice, subgenus Nannomys: A review
African pygmy mice (subgenus . Nannomys) are a group of small murine rodents that are widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Although this group has long been recognized for its extensive chromosomal diversity, the highly conserved morphology of its members has made taxonomic assignments problematic. Renewed interest resulting from a series of cytogenetic and molecular investigations has led to the identification of novel patterns of diversification in these rodents that are reviewed herein. These approaches have considerably improved species delimitation and provide tentative diagnostic criteria as well as preliminary phylogenetic relationships that will be refined as more taxa are investigated. Although sparse, ecological data suggest that pygmy mice may exhibit original reproductive traits that deserve further investigation. Chromosomal diversity undoubtedly remains one of the most interesting features of African pygmy mouse biology. They display several karyotypic traits that are rare in mammals: (i) their genomes tolerate the recurrent formation of tandem fusions and sex-autosome translocations, both of which are rare in other mammals due to their highly deleterious effects on fertility; (ii) they exhibit the first case of a whole arm exchange involving an X chromosome, and (iii) two species show novel means of sex chromosome determination - one exhibits XY females, whereas the other harbors populations in which males have no Y chromosome. The diversity of African pygmy mice offers a unique opportunity to study the processes involved in their radiation, and in a broader context, the evolution of sex chromosome determination in mammals. © 2012 Elsevier Masson SAS.