Inter- and intraspecific phylogeography of small mammals in the Atacama Desert and adjacent areas of northern Chile
We evaluated the phylogeography of sigmodontine taxa of the genera Phyllotis and Abrothrix at the intra and interspecific level, in the Atacama desert and adjacent Andean and Puna regions of northern Chile. The major goal was to test the hypothesis that sigmodontine mice differentiated in the lowlands, most likely via peripatric speciation , dispersing from highland to lowland areas across the desert vegetated canyons, thus reaching the Pacific coast. Dispersing individuals may have found favourable habitats along these valleys, in northern Chile, which connect the high altitude Puna region with the lowlands. Location
The study was conducted in northern Chile (18–22° S), in coastal pre-Puna and Puna regions. Methods
For phylogeographic analyses we analysed cytochrome b mitochondrial sequences for 29 specimens of the genera Abrothrix and Phyllotis, from the region of study. All results were analysed phylogenetically using maximum-likelihood, Bayesian, and uncorrected median-joining network methodology. Results
In Phyllotis we recognized two major clusters of taxa: one restricted to the Puna region identified as Phyllotis xanthopygus chilensis, in close association to a pre-Punean and lowland clade constituted by Phyllotis limatus, on the western slopes of the Andes. A similar pattern was distinguished for Abrothrix, where Abrothrix andinus was recognized in the Andean Altiplano-pre-Puna region and Abrothrix olivaceus in the lowlands of northern Chile. Main conclusions
We found that the radiation of sigmodontine mice in the central Andes may have been facilitated by the historical events that affected high Andean elevations during Pleistocene times, as well as changes in the vegetation composition and climate that started to prevail during that time. Our results also support previous hypotheses that the major mode of evolution for small mammals in the Andes region has been based on the founder effect or the peripheral isolates model, from a central range located in the Andes.