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The importance of cytotaxonomy in understanding the biogeography of African rodents: Lake Chad murids as an example



    1. Laboratoire de Mammalogie (CBGP, UMR022), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, BP 2528, Bamako, Mali, Email:;
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    1. Laboratoire de Zoologie, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, B.P. 11416, Niamey, Niger
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    • Present address: Laboratoire de Zoologie Mammifères & Oiseaux, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 55 rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France.


1. Due to the existence of numerous morphologically sibling species among African rodent genera, cytogenetical analyses are essential for correct taxonomic identifications. As an illustration, karyotypes of rodents captured in the Lake Chad area were systematically conducted, to determine them unambiguously.

2. Thirteen species were found, giving a list of at least 18 species in total for the whole Lake Chad region when previously published data were critically re-examined. Gerbilline rodents dominate in this Sahelian region, with five species of Gerbillus, four of Taterillus, two of Tatera and Desmodilliscus braueri, and six species of murine rodents were also counted. Moreover, two species of Taterillus appeared characterized by unique and hitherto unknown karyotypes, and undoubtedly represent new species.

3. The Lake Chad area, although poorly studied from a biogeographical point of view, occupies a central position in the northern half of Africa which makes its zoogeographical affinities interesting to evaluate. Analysis of the biogeographical characteristics of the rodent species recorded here leads to the conclusion that the murid rodent community of the Lake Chad region is of mixed origin, with a dominant West African component. However, the presence of two species considered as endemics (Mastomys verheyeni and Taterillus lacustris), combined with our discovery of two new chromosomal species of Taterillus, suggest that this region may have acted as a centre of differentiation in relatively recent times, perhaps reflecting the extensive variations of the Lake Chad basin associated with Plio-Pleistocene cycles of transgression–regression.

4. Without chromosomal data, most of these findings would have remained weakly supported, or even undiscovered, as between five and eight species could have been overlooked.

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