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Keywords:

  • allopatric differentiation;
  • ancient DNA;
  • conservation genetics;
  • Hispaniolan hutia;
  • historical biogeography;
  • palaeo-islands

Abstract

Hispaniola is a geotectonically complex island consisting of two palaeo-islands that docked c. 10 Ma, with a further geological boundary subdividing the southern palaeo-island into eastern and western regions. All three regions have been isolated by marine barriers during the late Cenozoic and possess biogeographically distinct terrestrial biotas. However, there is currently little evidence to indicate whether Hispaniolan mammals show distributional patterns reflecting this geotectonic history, as the island’s endemic land mammal fauna is now almost entirely extinct. We obtained samples of Hispaniolan hutia (Plagiodontia aedium), one of the two surviving Hispaniolan land mammal species, through fieldwork and historical museum collections from seven localities distributed across all three of the island’s biogeographic regions. Phylogenetic analysis using mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b) reveals a pattern of historical allopatric lineage divergence in this species, with the spatial distribution of three distinct hutia lineages biogeographically consistent with the island’s geotectonic history. Coalescent modelling, approximate Bayesian computation and approximate Bayes factor analyses support our phylogenetic inferences, indicating near-complete genetic isolation of these biogeographically separate populations and differing estimates of their effective population sizes. Spatial congruence of hutia lineage divergence is not however matched by temporal congruence with divergences in other Hispaniolan taxa or major events in Hispaniola’s geotectonic history; divergence between northern and southern hutia lineages dates to c. 0.6 Ma, significantly later than the unification of the palaeo-islands. The three allopatric Plagiodontia populations should all be treated as distinct management units for conservation, with particular attention required for the northern population (low haplotype diversity) and the south-western population (high haplotype diversity but highly threatened).