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Keywords:

  • Conservation biogeography;
  • cryptic species;
  • directional analysis;
  • Great Basin;
  • haplotype–area curves;
  • kangaroo mice;
  • Microdipodops megacephalus;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • phylogeography;
  • source–sink dynamics

Abstract

Aim  The rodent genus Microdipodops (kangaroo mice) includes two sand-obligate endemics of the Great Basin Desert: M. megacephalus and M. pallidus. The dark kangaroo mouse, M. megacephalus, is distributed throughout the Great Basin and our principal aims were to formulate phylogenetic hypotheses for this taxon and make phylogeographical comparisons with its congener.

Location  The Great Basin Desert of western North America.

Methods  DNA sequence data from three mitochondrial genes were examined from 186 individuals of M. megacephalus, representing 47 general localities. Phylogenetic inference was used to analyse the sequence data. Directional analysis of phylogeographical patterns was used to examine haplotype sharing patterns and recover routes of gene exchange. Haplotype–area curves were constructed to evaluate the relationship between genetic variation and distributional island size for M. megacephalus and M. pallidus.

Results Microdipodops megacephalus is a rare desert rodent (trapping success was 2.67%). Temporal comparison of trapping data shows that kangaroo mice are becoming less abundant in the study area. The distribution has changed slightly since the 1930s but many northern populations now appear to be small, fragmented, or locally extinct. Four principal phylogroups (the Idaho isolate and the western, central and eastern clades) are evident; mean sequence divergence between phylogroups for cytochrome b is c. 8%. Data from haplotype sharing show two trends: a north–south trend and a web-shaped trend. Analyses of haplotype–area curves reveal significant positive relationships.

Main conclusions  The four phylogroups of M. megacephalus appear to represent morphologically cryptic species; in comparison, a companion study revealed two cryptic lineages in M. pallidus. Estimated divergence times of the principal clades of M. megacephalus (c. 2–4 Ma) indicate that these kangaroo mice were Pleistocene invaders into the Great Basin coincident with the formation of sandy habitats. The north–south and web patterns from directional analyses reveal past routes of gene flow and provide evidence for source–sink population regulation. The web pattern was not seen in the companion study of M. pallidus. Significant haplotype–area curves indicate that the distributional islands are now in approximate genetic equilibrium. The patterns described here are potentially useful to conservation biologists and wildlife managers and may serve as a model for other sand-obligate organisms of the Great Basin.