Name: Leite JV

Biodeserts supervisors: Brito JC, Godinho R, Velo-Antón G

Title: Evolution and biogeography of Canids (Canis and Vulpes) in North-West Africa: combining genetic and ecogeographical information

Institution: University of Porto

Status: Completed



North Africa, and especially the arid areas of the Sahara-Sahel, is characterised by unique biogeographical features that have been associated to major phylogeographic patterns. Nevertheless, biodiversity is generally poorly assessed as well as the evolutionary drivers regulating such diversity. High dispersal and non-volant species, such as canids (Mammalia; Carnivora) are particularly understudied. North Africa encompasses the range of five canid species that lack detailed genetic assessments: the golden jackal Canis aureus, and the foxes Vulpes pallida (Sahelian endemic), V. rueppellii, V. vulpes and V. zerda.

The main objective of this study was to conduct a genetic assessment of North African canids, using two types of molecular markers - mitochondrial DNA sequences and a set of 46 autosomal microsatellite loci. Molecular data for the two types of markers was obtained for 14 C. aureus, 15 V. pallida, seven V. rueppellii, 25 V. vulpes and seven V. zerda. Phylogenetic trees, networks and diversity indexes were estimated based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. Population structuring and hybridization between sympatric species was assessed, as well as further diversity indexes and genetic distances among individuals and groups, from individual multilocus genotypes.

Results suggest: 1) European and African populations of C. aureus are divergent and each monophyletic; 2) a possible past introgression of wolf mitochondria into North African C. aureus populations; 3) two distinct lineages within V. vulpes, one that may account for an early colonization stage that is present in North Africa and Japan, from which V. rueppellii possibly diverged into a more arid adapted species, and another lineage that includes specimens from Europe and Asia (including again Japan); 4) significant levels of molecular variability for V. pallida, which constitute the first ever molecular data on the species; and 5) little evidence for clear biogeographical structuring of genetic diversity within North Africa (except for V. vulpes in the Maghreb), probably related to the high vagility of canid species that allows considerable gene flow between relatively distant areas.