Name: Lima VO

Biodeserts supervisor: Brito JC, Boratyński Z

Provisory Title: Evolution and biogeography of Hedgehogs in North-West Africa: combining genetic variability with ecogeographical information

Institution: University of Porto

Status: Completed

 

Abstract

Despite the growing interest in slowing down the current rate of biodiversity loss many georaphic areas remain neglected by researchers. Deserts and arid regions are a great example of areas with high rate of endemism and micro-hotspots of biodiversity that are generally poorly assessed. Small mammals distributed in deserts, such as hedgehogs (Mammalia; Eulipotyphla) are mostly understudied. There are four species of hedgehogs known in North Africa, belonging to genera Atelerix, Hemiechinus and Paraechinus, with unclear distributions and phylogenetic relationships.

The main objective of this study was to investigate, for the first time, the evolutionary and phylogeographic patterns of the North African species, using two molecular markers. It was analysed 136 new mitochondrial sequences with 1012 bp and 78 new nuclear sequences with 675 bp from African and Eurasian species. Some species were sequenced for the first time with both molecular markers. Phylogenetic trees, distribution maps, networks and diversity indexes were estimated based on mtDNA and nDNA sequences.

Results support the close relatedness between Paraechinus, Mesechinus and Hemiechinus and the great differentiation between Erinaceus europaeus populations from the European peninsulas. Results also suggest broader distribution, than previously known, of Atelerix algirus in the northern areas of Africa. Evidences of the presence of Paraechinus aethiopicus in Africa were not found, both inside and outside their distribution range. Genetic incongruities found between mtDNA and nDNA suggest a possible introgression between A. algirus and a new previously unidentified population (Erinaceinae cryptic). High genetic differentiation was found between A. albiventris populations, located on opposite sides of a putative geographic barrier (Niger River). Populations of A. algirus from Canary Islands proved to be more related with Morocco and Mauritania specimens, whereas populations from the Balearic Islands showed greatest similarity with more distant geographic regions.

Although new clues to understanding the evolution and phylogeography of hedgehogs were discovered, results suggest that more robust analyses employing new molecular markers and greater sampling efforts are needed to enhance the present understanding of North African hedgehogs.