Molecular phylogeny of the subfamily Gerbillinae (Muridae, Rodentia) with emphasis on species living in the Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region of China and based on the mitochondrial cytochrome b and cytochrome c oxidase subunit II genes.
Rodents belonging to the subfamily Gerbillinae and living in the Xinjiang-Uygur autonomous region of China were collected in field surveys between 2001 and 2003. We found four Meriones species, including M. chengi M. liycus, M. meridianus, and M. tamariscinus, as well as related species from different genera, Rhombomys opimus and Brachiones przewaliskii For phylogenetic analyses of these gerbilline species, DNA sequences of parts of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (Cytb) and cytochrome c oxidase subunit II (COII) genes were examined with the neighbor Joining, maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian inference methods. Our phylogenetic analyses suggest that the genus Meriones is not monophyletic and place M. tamaricinus as the sister taxon to a clade comprising Brachiones, Psammomys, Rhombomys, and the other Meriones species. The remaining Meriones species separate into three lineages: M. meridianus (including M. chengi), Meriones unguiculatus, and a clade that includes multiple Meriones species originating from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The phylogenetic relationships among the genera Brachines, Meriones, Psammomys, and Rhombomys remain ambiguous, probably due to the saturation of mutations that occurs in fast-evolving mitochondrial DNA. In addition, intraspecific variation was observed for M. meridianus, and this mostly correlated with collection localities, i.e., the northern and southern parts of the Xinjiang region. This variation corresponded to interspecific levels of divergence among other lineages of Meriones. Interestingly, no differences were observed in either the Cytb or COII gene sequences isolated from M. chengi collected from the Turfan Basin in the north and those from M. meridianus in the south, suggesting that M. chengi may be a synonym of M. meridianus.