Geographic variation and evolutionary history of Dipodomys nitratoides (Rodentia: Heteromyidae), a species in severe decline


We examined geographic patterns of diversification in the highly impacted San Joaquin kangaroo rat, Dipodomys nitratoides, throughout its range in the San Joaquin Valley and adjacent basins in central California. The currently recognized subspecies were distinct by the original set of mensural and color variables used in their formal diagnoses, although the Fresno kangaroo rat (D. n. exilis) is the most strongly differentiated with sharp steps in character clines relative to the adjacent Tipton (D. n. nitratoides) and short-nosed (D. n. brevinasus) races. The latter two grade more smoothly into one another but still exhibit independent, and different, character clines within themselves. At the molecular level, as delineated by mtDNA cytochrome b sequences, most population samples retain high levels of diversity despite significant retraction in the species range and severe fragmentation of local populations in recent decades due primarily to landscape conversion for agriculture and secondarily to increased urbanization. Haplotype apportionment bears no relationship to morphologically defined subspecies boundaries. Rather, a haplotype network is shallow, most haplotypes are single-step variants, and the time to coalescence is substantially more recent than the time of species split between D. nitratoides and its sister taxon, D. merriami. The biogeographic history of the species within the San Joaquin Valley appears tied to mid-late Pleistocene expansion following significant drying of the valley resulting from the rain shadow produced by uplift of the Central Coastal Ranges

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