Coalescence methods reveal the impact of vicariance on the spatial genetic structure of Elephantulus edwardii (Afrotheria, Macroscelidea)

08 April 2008

Within the Macroscelidea 15 species of elephant-shrews are recognized, of which nine occur in the southern African subregion. The Cape rock elephant-shrew ( Elephantulus edwardii ) is the only strictly endemic South African elephant-shrew species. Recent distribution data suggest that E. edwardii is continuously distributed from Namaqualand in the Western Cape Province to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province. Molecular sequences from the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and variable control region indicate significant substructure within the Cape rock elephant-shrew across its distribution. Our data unequivocally showed the presence of a northern Namaqua and central Fynbos clade with four evolutionary lineages identified within the latter. The geographical delimitation of the northern and central clades corresponds closely with patterns reported for other rockdwelling vertebrate species, indicating a shared biogeographical history for these taxa in South Africa. A coalescent method revealed the effects of ancestral polymorphism in shaping the Namaqua and Fynbos populations since their divergence ~1.7 million years ago. Furthermore, our analyses uncovered a distinct Karoo lineage(s) that does not correspond to any of the previously described and/or currently recognized species, and we therefore argue for the possible recognition of a new sister taxon to E. edwardii. The taxonomic affinities of this clade were examined by sequencing corresponding regions from the type specimens of species described in the past, but which presently are synonimized within E. edwardii . Our results reveal the morphological misidentification of one of these types, accentuating the problems of field identification.