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The historical bridge between the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest of Brazil: a study of molecular phylogeography with small mammals


Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Av. Antônio Carlos, 6627, 31260-901 Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil. E-mail:


Abstract Aim  To examine how the genetic diversity of selected taxa of forest-dwelling small mammals is distributed between and within the major rain forest domains of Amazonia and Atlantic Forest and the intervening interior forests of Brazil, as inferred by the relationships between gene genealogies and geography. I also addressed the historical importance of the central Brazilian forests in connecting Amazon and Atlantic Forest populations of rodents and marsupials.

Methods  I evaluated variation in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene to estimate the levels of sequence divergence between those taxa occurring throughout the Amazon, Atlantic Forest, and forests in the Cerrado and Caatinga regions. I inferred the hierarchical relationships between haplotypes, populations and formal taxa using the cladistic approach of maximum parsimony. I compared areas and the clades identified by superimposing cladograms on the geographical distribution of samples. The degree of concordance both in phylogeny and the depth of the nodes in these phylogenies, in addition to patterns of geographical distribution of clades, permitted me to make inferences on how, when and where the taxa differentiated.

Results  Sequence similarity is often greater between samples from the Atlantic Forest and either Amazon or central Brazilian forests than it is within each of the two rain forest domains. The Atlantic Forest clades are either not reciprocally monophyletic or are the sister group to all the other clades. There is some indication of northern and southern components in the Atlantic Forest. Given the geographical distribution of clades and the relatively deep levels of divergence, the central Brazilian area does not behave as a separate region but is complementary to either Amazon or Atlantic Forest. Patterns of area relationships differ across taxa, suggesting that different processes and/or historic events affected the diversification within each lineage.

Main conclusions  The Amazon and the Atlantic forests are not exclusive in terms of their small mammal faunas; both overlap broadly with taxa occurring in gallery forests and dry forests in central Brazil. Central Brazilian forests are an integral part of the evolutionary scenario of lowland small mammals, playing an important role as present and past habitats for rain forest species. Therefore, representatives from this area should always be included in analyses of the evolutionary history of lowland rain forest faunas. The incongruence of branching patterns among areas is in agreement with recent results presented for Neotropical passerine birds and indicates that a single hypothesis of Neotropical area relationships is unlikely. These findings reinforce the idea that speciation in the Neotropics will not be explained by any single model of vicariance or climatic changes.