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Keywords:

  • evolution;
  • Mastomys;
  • divergence timing;
  • DNA/DNA hybridization

Within the Murinae (Muridae: Rodentia), the African rats of the Praomys group, whose systematics has been studied through different approaches, have raised numerous taxonomic problems. Different taxa related to Praomys have successively been described, among which Mastomys, Myomys and Hylomyscus were considered either as separate genera or subgenera of Praomys. In order to clarify the relationships within the Praomys group, we conducted a series of DNA/DNA hybridization experiments involving different species of Praomys, Mastomys, Myomys and Hylomyscus plus other Murinae and a Cricetomyinae. This study indicates that the Praomys complex is a monophyletic entity clearly separated from the other African and Asian Murinae. If Mastomys and Hylomyscus appeared to be independent genera, the taxonomic situation of Praomys and Myomys is more difficult to ascertain. Indeed, Praomys tullbergi appears more closely related to Myomys daltoni than to another species of Praomys, namely P. jacksoni, suggesting paraphyly for Praomys. Furthermore, P. jacksoni is as distant from P. tullbergi as from any species of Mastomys. Additional species of Praomys and, especially, of Myomys, are needed for reaching a definitive conclusion on these latter taxa. The Praomys group is more related to Mus than to Rattus. To calibrate our molecular distances with geological time, we used a dating of 10 Myr for the Musi Rattus dichotomy. The inferred rate of molecular evolution suggests a dating of c. 8 Myr for the separation of the Praomys group from the Mus lineage.