Taxonomy of the African giant pouched rats (Nesomyidae: Cricetomys): molecular and craniometric evidence support an unexpected high species diversity

Authors


E-mail: ayyolayemi@yahoo.com; aolayemi@oauife.edu.ng

Abstract

Our study combined a mitochondrial cytochrome b phylogeny with cranial measurements from giant pouched rats collected across sub-Saharan Africa. The mitochondrial phylogeny resolves two West African clades and a clade with east and central Africa representatives. This last clade can be further divided into four subclades. Altogether they represent six species (Cricetomys gambianus, Cricetomys ansorgei, Cricetomys emini, and three undescribed taxa) that can be distinguished on the basis of their mitochondrial DNA sequences and craniometry. In the absence of adequate craniometric data the existence of Cricetomys kivuensis cannot be confirmed by our data. Our combined molecular and craniometric data allowed us to broadly delineate the distribution ranges of the detected species. Cricetomys gambianus occurs in the savannah and forest clearings of West Africa. Cricetomys ansorgei is distributed in the savannah of East and southern Africa. Cricetomys emini, as currently recognized across the Guineo-Congolian forest of Africa, is shown to be diphyletic. Cricetomys sp. 1, a separate operational taxonomic unit closely resembling C. emini, occurs in the forest zone of West Africa. An undescribed sister-species of C. ansorgei, Cricetomys sp. 2, occurs in the forest of Central Africa along the left bank of the Congo River. Cricetomys sp. 3 occurs on the right bank of the Congo River from Cameroon to the Republic of Congo, whereas the true C. emini also occurs on the right bank of the Congo River but appears to be restricted to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cranial phenotype within the genus tends to conform to ecological zonation (either forest or savannah) rather than to phylogenetic affiliation of the species concerned, suggesting that diversifying selection across environmental gradients could be responsible for biological diversification within the genus.

Ancillary