Exploring Rattus praetor (Rodentia, Muridae) as a possible species complex using geometric morphometrics on dental morphology
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Taxonomic uncertainties in the Rattus genus persist due to among-species morphological conservatism coupled with within-species environmental variation in morphology. As a result, this genus contains a number of possible cryptic species. One important example can be found in R. praetor, where morphological studies indicate it is a possible species complex. Genetic studies of R. praetor (limited to analysis of mitochondrial DNA) have been inconclusive, but do indicate such subdivision. Here we use geometric morphometrics to explore this possible species complex by analysing the dental traits of 48 specimens from New Guinea and neighbouring regions. We find separate molar morphologies for Bougainsville Island, central New Guinea and west New Guinea which cannot be easily explained by different environmental factors (climate, precipitation and altitude), strongly suggesting the existence of a number of evolutionarily distinct taxa within what is currently called R. praetor thus supporting previous suggestions that R. praetor is a species complex. Our findings demonstrate the potential of advanced morphological analyses in identifying separate species, contrary to the claims of morphological conservatism. Future analyses should combine geometric morphometrics with genetic analyses over the species range and include sub-fossil specimens from the Bismarck archipelago and Solomon Islands to resolve the evolutionary history of R. praetor.
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We would like to thank the Wellcome Trust for funding this project (grant code WT 071037). AHB is funded by the Leverhulme Trust on an early career fellowship.
Cryptic species; Phylogeography; Geometric morphometrics; Rat; Sahul
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Mammalian Biology (2018), 92, 62–67