Tchaicka, L., de Freitas, T. R. O., Bager, A., Vidal, S. L., Lucherini, M., Iriarte, A., Novaro, A., Geffen, E., Garcez, F. S., Johnson, W. E., Wayne, R. K., & Eizirik, E. (2016). Molecular assessment of the phylogeny and biogeography of a recently diversified endemic group of South American canids (Mammalia: Carnivora: Canidae). Genetics and Molecular Biology, 39(3), 442–451.
To investigate the evolution and biogeography of an endemic group of South American foxes, we examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequences for 118 individuals belonging to all six extant species of the genus Lycalopex. Phylogenetic and molecular dating analyses supported the inference that this genus has undergone a very recent and rapid radiation, stemming from a common ancestor that lived ca. 1 million years ago. The Brazilian endemic L. vetulus was supported as the most basal species in this genus, whereas the most internal group is comprised by the recently diverged (ca. 350,000 years ago) Andean/Patagonian species L. griseus and L. culpaeus.We discuss the inferred phylogenetic relationships and divergence times in the context of the current geographic distributions of these species, and the likely effects of Pleistocene climatic changes on the biogeography of this group. Furthermore, a remarkable finding was the identification of multiple individuals classified as L. gymnocercus bearing mtDNA haplotypes clearly belonging to L. griseus, sampled in regions where the latter is not known to occur. At a minimum, this result implies the need to clarify the present-day geographic distribution of each of these fox species, while it may also indicate an ongoing hybridization process between them. Future testing of this hypothesis with in-depth analyses of these populations is thus a priority for understanding the history, evolutionary dynamics and present-day composition of this endemic Neotropical genus.