Species limits and phylogeographic structure in two genera of solitary African mole-rats Georychus and Heliophobius

M. Uhrová, O. Mikula, N. C. Bennett, P. Van Daele, L. Piálek, J. Bryja, J. H. Visser, B. Jansen van Vuuren, R. Šumbera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


African mole-rats (Bathyergidae) are an intensively studied family of subterranean rodents including three highly social and three solitary genera. Although their phylogenetic interrelations are clear, genetic diversity and the number of species within each genus is much less certain. Among the solitary genera, Heliophobius and Georychus were for a long time considered as monotypic, but molecular studies demonstrated strong phylogeographic structure within each genus and proposed that they represent complexes of cryptic species. The present study re-evaluates their internal genetic/phylogenetic structure using a combination of methodological approaches. We generated datasets of one mitochondrial and six specifically selected nuclear markers as well as of a large number of double digest restriction site associated (ddRAD) loci and then applied species delimitation analyses based on the multispecies coalescent model or clustering on co-ancestry matrices. The population structure was largely congruent across all analyses, but the methods differed in their resolution scale when determining distinct gene pools. While the multispecies coalescent model distinguished five Georychus and between eleven to thirteen Heliophobius gene pools in both Sanger sequenced and ddRAD loci, two clustering algorithms revealed significantly finer or coarser structure in ddRAD based co-ancestry matrices. Tens of clusters were distinguished by fineRADstructure and one (in Georychus) or two clusters (in Heliophobius) by Infomap. The divergence dating of the bathyergid phylogeny estimated that diversification within both genera coincided with the onset of the Pleistocene and was likely driven by repeated large-scale climatic changes. Based on this updated genetic evidence, we suggest recognizing one species of Georychus and two species of Heliophobius, corresponding to a northern and southern major lineage, separated by the Eastern Arc Mountains. Yet, the final taxonomic revision should await integrated evidence stemming from e.g. morphological, ecological, or behavioral datasets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107337
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Bathyergideae
  • Diversification
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Pleistocene climatic fluctuations
  • Population structure
  • ddRAD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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