Rodents of the eastern and western slopes of the Tropical Andes: phylogenetic and taxonomic insights using DNA barcodes

Miguel Pinto, Reed Ojala-Barbour, Jorge Brito, Angélica Menchaca, André L. G. Carvalho, Marcelo Weksler, George Amato, Thomas E. Lee


The Andes Mountains particularly the forests along the mid-elevations of their eastern and western slopes, are a hotspot of biodiversity (high numbers of species and endemics). Among mammals, rodents are a priority group for study in the Tropical Andes given their high diversity and often relatively small geographic ranges. Here, we use DNA barcoding as a tool to help in the identification, and preliminary analysis of the phylogenetic relationships, of rodents from two natural reserves: Otonga, a private forest reserve, located on the western slopes, and Sangay National Park, located on the eastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. We sequenced 657 bp of the mitochondrial Cytochrome Oxidase I (COI) gene for 201 tissue samples of sigmodontine and echimyid rodents collected primarily in Otonga and Sangay. We conducted phylogenetic analyses using maximum-likelihood and Poisson tree processes (PTP) species delimitation analyses. Three sets of data were analyzed: 1) our newly generated sequences, 2) our Mesomys sequence plus DNA sequences of Echimyidae available in GenBank, and 3) all of our sequences (all Sigmodontinae and one Echimyidae) together with relevant DNA sequences of Sigmodontinae available in GenBank. Our samples consisted of 24 species; the molecular data indicated that only one species—Microryzomys minutus—was shared between both eastern and western localities. Contrary to the currently recognized distributions of Akodon mollis and Chilomys instans, our species delimitation analysis suggests that these species are not shared between Otonga and Sangay, and may actually represent two species each. The sample of Mesomys from the eastern slopes of the Andes differs minimally from that from the lowlands of the Ecuadorian Amazon, suggesting that both populations would correspond to the same species, Mesomys hispidus. Both Mindomys hammondi and an undescribed Mindomys from Otonga do not form a reciprocally monophyletic group with relation to Nephelomys. The Nephelomys of Sangay might correspond to two different species. The eastern and western slopes of the Tropical Andes harbor different species of rodents, with only one of our study species shared between both localities, implying that other cases of shared species between the eastern and the western slopes of the Andes need further assessment. Several lineages represented in our sample may require formal taxonomic description, highlighting the need for further systematic research. The new genetic data generated in our study could speed taxonomic discovery in the Andes and help to illuminate interesting evolutionary patterns, such as the radiation of Thomasomys.

Palabras clave

Akodon, Andes, Chilomys, Echimyidae, Ecuador, Microryzomys, Oligoryzomys, Sigmodontinae, species delimitation, Thomasomys

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