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Syst Biol. 1999 Dec;48(4):715-34.

Molecular phylogeny of the marmots (Rodentia: Sciuridae): tests of evolutionary and biogeographic hypotheses.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Systematics, Smithsonian Institution, 4210 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, Maryland 20746, USA.


There are 14 species of marmots distributed across the Holarctic, and despite extensive systematic study, their phylogenetic relationships remain largely unresolved. In particular, comprehensive studies have been lacking. A well-supported phylogeny is needed to place the numerous ecological and behavioral studies on marmots in an evolutionary context. To address this situation, we obtained complete cytochrome (cyt) b sequences for 13 of the species and a partial sequence for the 14th. We applied a statistical approach to both phylogeny estimation and hypothesis testing, using parsimony and maximum likelihood-based methods. We conducted statistical tests on a suite of previously proposed hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships and biogeographic histories. The cyt b data strongly support the monophyly of Marmota and a western montane clade in the Nearctic. Although some other scenarios cannot be rejected, the results are consistent with an initial diversification in North America, followed by an invasion and subsequent rapid diversification in the Palearctic. These analyses reject the two major competing hypotheses of M. broweri's phylogenetic relationships--namely, that it is the sister species to M. camtschatica of eastern Siberia, and that it is related closely to M. caligata of the Nearctic. The Alaskan distribution of M. broweri is best explained as a reinvasion from the Palearctic, but a Nearctic origin can not be rejected. Several other conventionally recognized species groups can also be rejected. Social evolution has been homoplastic, with large colonial systems evolving in two groups convergently. The cyt b data do not provide unambiguous resolution of several basal nodes in the Palearctic radiation, leaving some aspects of pelage and karyotypic evolution equivocal.

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