Speciation and adaptive radiation of subterranean mole rats, Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies, in Jordan


*E-mail: nevo@research.haifa.ac.il


The major initial mechanism of speciation in subterranean blind mole rats, Spalacidae, is chromosomal, primarily through Robertsonian rearrangements. Here we highlight another scenario of chromosomal rearrangement leading to ecological speciation and adaptive radiation apparently initiated by pericentric inversions and genie divergence to different ecologies in mole rats in Jordan. We analysed karyotype, allozyme, size and ecological diversity across the range of mole rats in Jordan from mesic Irbid in the north to xeric Wadi Musa (Petra region) in the south, a transect of 250 km. We examined mole rats for chromosome (N=71), size (N=76), and allozyme (N=67) diversities, encoded by 32 loci, in 12 populations of the Spalax ehrenbetgi superspecies in Jordan. By a combination of chromosome morphology, genetic distance, body size and ecogeography, we identified four new putative biological species. All species (except two animals in Madaba) share 2n= 60 but vary in chromosome morphology, caused by pericentric inversions and/or centromeric shifts. The ‘north Moav’ species is karyotypically polymorphic for 2n (2n= 60; including locally also two animals with 2n= 62). The distribution of the four species is associated with ecogeographical different domains and climatic diversity. Genetic diversity indices were low, but like chromosome arms (NFa) were positively correlated with aridity stress. Discriminant analysis correctly classified 91% of the individuals into the four species utilizing combinatorially chromosome, allozyme and size diversities. It is hypothesized that mole rat evolution underground is intimately associated with climatic diversity stress above ground.