The Neotropical region is the most biologically diverse region on the planet. The region encompasses a variety of ecosystems and has long been the target of researchers interested in patterns of species diversity and distribution. More recently, molecular data have been incorporated into methods for reconstructing the historical relationships among geographical areas and their biotas. Molecular phylogenetics has provided insights into diversification patterns and the influence of Late Cenozoic events on the evolutionary history of the region. Nevertheless, considering the vast extent and complexity of the region, more studies are needed to fully appreciate the patterns of biogeography and the mechanisms that generate and maintain its biodiversity. Therefore, in Chapter 1 I employed molecular methods to reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships of the subfamily Sigmodontinae, which is the most diverse and widespread radiation of Neotropical rodents. I was able to evaluate controversial hypotheses about the paleogeographic scenarios implicated to explain the biogeography of sigmodontines. Advances in sequencing technology and analytical approaches have revolutionized the role of historical biogeography in elucidating the spatial and temporal context of diversification, and the integrative field of phylogeography was fundamental to the development of biogeography at the intraspecific level. However, the potential of phylogeography to unravel diverse historical scenarios in a tractable statistical framework has been largely unexplored for the Neotropics as a whole. In order to integrate more robust hypothesis testing to elucidate the evolutionary history of Amazonia's biota, I devoted Chapter 2 to a review of Amazonian phylogeography that I anticipate will improve the basis for interpreting the patterns and processes of diversification in Amazonia. Chapter 3 is a thorough species account of spiny rats of the genus Proechimys, which is poorly known taxonomically despite its diversity and widespread distribution in the Neotropics. This taxonomic revision will benefit researchers interested in using such information with coalescent-based methods of species delimitation aimed at an integrative and stable taxonomy. Lastly, Chapter 4 deals with the phylogeography of P. roberti. This species occurs in southeastern Amazonia and the Cerrado of central Brazil. I employed a dense taxon sampling and used coalescent-based methods to demonstrate that rivers and topography have a causal link to the geographic structure of P. roberti populations. In my dissertation, I used a combination of molecular genetics tools to provide a better understanding of the biogeography and evolution of some of the most diverse groups of Neotropical mammals. My dissertation interacts in many levels with my future research interests. These present and future efforts hold promise for unraveling the evolutionary history of the Neotropical region and its biota, and will assist in conservation decisions aiming at preserving its unparalleled biodiversity.
College and Department
Life Sciences; Biology
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Leite, Rafael do Nascimento, "Biogeography and Evolution of Neotropical Small Mammals, with Emphasis on Hystricognath Spiny Rats of the Genus Proechimys (Family Echimyidae)" (2013). All Theses and Dissertations. 3992.
diversification, coalescent, hypothesis testing, rodents, statistical phylogeography, Proechimys, taxonomy, South America, Amazon Basin