Local and regional scale genetic variation in the Cape dune mole-rat, Bathyergus suillus
Jansen van Vuuren, B.
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The distribution of genetic variation is determined through the interaction of life history, morphology and habitat specificity of a species in conjunction with landscape structure. While numerous studies have investigated this interplay of factors in species inhabiting aquatic, riverine, terrestrial, arboreal and saxicolous systems, the fossorial system has remained largely unexplored. In this study we attempt to elucidate the impacts of a subterranean lifestyle coupled with a heterogeneous landscape on genetic partitioning by using a subterranean mammal species, the Cape dune mole-rat (Bathyergus suillus), as our model. Bathyergus suillus is one of a few mammal species endemic to the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of the Western Cape of South Africa. Its distribution is fragmented by rivers and mountains; both geographic phenomena that may act as geographical barriers to gene-flow. Using two mitochondrial fragments (cytochrome b and control region) as well as nine microsatellite loci, we determined the phylogeographic structure and gene-flow patterns at two different spatial scales (local and regional). Furthermore, we investigated genetic differentiation between populations and applied Bayesian clustering and assignment approaches to our data. Nearly every population formed a genetically unique entity with significant genetic structure evident across geographic barriers such as rivers (Berg, Verlorenvlei, Breede and Gourits Rivers), mountains (Piketberg and Hottentots Holland Mountains) and with geographic distance at both spatial scales. Surprisingly, B. suillus was found to be paraphyletic with respect to its sister species, B. janetta–a result largely overlooked by previous studies on these taxa. A systematic revision of the genus Bathyergus is therefore necessary. This study provides a valuable insight into how the biology, life-history and habitat specificity of animals inhabiting a fossorial system may act in concert with the structure of the surrounding landscape to influence genetic distinctiveness and ultimately speciation.