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Napoleon Bonaparte and the fate of an Amazonian rat: new data on the taxonomy of Mesomys hispidus (Rodentia: Echimyidae)

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The spiny rat Mesomys hispidus is one of many South American rodents that lack adequate taxonomic definition. The few sampled populations of this broadly distributed trans-Amazonian arboreal rat have come from widely separated regions and are typically highly divergent. The holotype was described in 1817 by A.-G. Desmarest, after Napoleon's army brought it to Paris following the plunder of Lisbon in 1808; however, the locality of origin has remained unknown. Here we examine the taxonomic status of this species by direct comparison of 50 extant individuals with the holotype at the morphometric and genetic levels, the latter based on 331 bp of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene retrieved from a small skin fragment of the holotype with ancient DNA technology. Extensive sequence divergence is present among samples of M. hispidus collected from throughout its range, from French Guiana across Amazonia to Bolivia and Peru, with at least seven mitochondrial clades recognized (average divergence of 7.7% Kimura 2-parameter distance). Sequence from the holotype is, however, only weakly divergent from those of recent samples from French Guiana. Moreover, the holotype clusters with greater that 99% posterior probability with samples from this part of Amazonia in a discriminant analysis based on 22 cranial and dental measurements. Thus, we suggest that the holotype was originally obtained in eastern Amazonia north of the Amazon River, most likely in the Brazilian state of Amapá. Despite the high level of sequence diversity and marked morphological differences in size across the range of M. hispidus, we continue to regard this assemblage as a single species until additional samples and analyses suggest otherwise.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Vol/bind27
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)113-120
Antal sider8
ISSN1055-7903
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 2003
Eksternt udgivetJa

ID: 226118383