Impacts of Quaternary environmental changes on mammal faunas of central Asia remain poorly understood due to a lack of geographically comprehensive phylogeographic sampling for most species. To help address this knowledge gap, we conducted the most extensive molecular analysis to date of the long-tailed ground squirrel (Urocitellus undulatus Pallas 1778) in Mongolia, a country that comprises the southern core of this species’ range. Drawing on material from recent collaborative field expeditions, we genotyped 128 individuals at 2 mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b and cytochrome oxidase I; 1 797 bp total). Phylogenetic inference supports the existence of two deeply divergent infraspecific lineages (corresponding to subspecies U. u. undulatus and U. u. eversmanni), a result in agreement with previous molecular investigations but discordant with patterns of range-wide craniometric and external phenotypic variation. In the widespread western eversmanni lineage, we recovered geographically-associated clades from the: (a) Khangai, (b) Mongolian Altai, and (c) Govi Altai mountain ranges. Phylogeographic structure in U. u. eversmanni is consistent with an isolation-by-distance model; however, genetic distances are significantly lower than among subspecies, and intra-clade relationships are largely unresolved. The latter patterns, as well as the relatively higher nucleotide polymorphism of populations from the Great Lakes Depression of northwestern Mongolia, suggest a history of range shifts into these lowland areas in response to Pleistocene glaciation and environmental change, followed by upslope movements and mitochondrial lineage sorting with Holocene aridification. Our study illuminates possible historical mechanisms responsible for U. undulatus genetic structure and contributes to a framework for ongoing exploration of mammalian response to past and present climate change in central Asia.
A recently proposed taxonomic classification of extant ungulates sparked a series of publications that criticize the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC) claiming it to be a particularly poor species concept. These opinions reiteratively stated that (1) the two fundamental elements of the "PSC", i.e., monophyly and diagnosability, do not offer objective criteria as to where the line between species should be drawn; and (2) that extirpation of populations can lead to artificial diagnosability and spurious recognitions of species. This sudden eruption of criticism against the PSC is misleading. Problems attributed to the PSC are common to most approaches and concepts that modern systematists employ to establish species boundaries. The controversial taxonomic propositions that sparked criticism against the PSC are indeed highly problematic, not because of the species concept upon which they are based, but because no evidence (whatsoever) has become public to support a substantial portion of the proposed classification. We herein discuss these topics using examples from mammals. Numerous areas of biological research rest upon taxonomic accuracy (including conservation biology and biomedical research); hence, it is necessary to clarify what are (and what are not) the real sources of taxonomic inaccuracy.
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