Publication details

Multilocus phylogeny of African striped grass mice (Lemniscomys): Stripe pattern only partly reflects evolutionary relationships



Year of publication 2021
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Biogeography; Grass mouse; Phylogeny; Striped pelage colouration; Sub-Saharan Africa; Zebra mouse
Description Murine rodents are one of the most evolutionary successful groups of extant mammals. They are also important for human as vectors and reservoirs of zoonoses and agricultural pests. Unfortunately, their fast and relatively recent diversification impedes our understanding of phylogenetic relationships and species limits of many murine taxa, including those with very conspicuous phenotype that has been frequently used for taxonomic purposes. One of such groups are the striped grass mice (genus Lemniscomys), distributed across sub-Saharan Africa in 11 currently recognized species. These are traditionally classified into three morphological groups according to different pelage colouration on the back: (a) L. barbarus group (three species) with several continuous pale longitudinal stripes; (b) L. striatus group (four species) with pale stripes diffused into short lines or dots; and (c) L. griselda group (four species) with a single mid-dorsal black stripe. Here we reconstructed the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the genus Lemniscomys to date, using the largest currently available multi-locus genetic dataset of all but two species. The results show four main lineages (=species complexes) with the distribution corresponding to the major biogeographical regions of Africa. Surprisingly, the four phylogenetic lineages are only in partial agreement with the morphological classification, suggesting that the single-stripe and/or multi-striped phenotypes evolved independently in multiple lineages. Divergence dating showed the split of Lemniscomys and Arvicanthis genera at the beginning of Pleistocene; most of subsequent speciation processes within Lemniscomys were affected by Pleistocene climate oscillations, with predominantly allopatric diversification in fragmented savanna biome. We propose taxonomic suggestions and directions for future research of this striking group of African rodents.
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