Exceptional Chromosomal Evolution and Cryptic Speciation of Blind Mole Rats Nannospalax leucodon (Spalacinae, Rodentia) from South-Eastern Europe
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Mole rats are exclusively subterranean and highly specialized rodents. Their long lifespans, remarkable anti-cancer mechanisms, and various distinctive adaptive features make them a useful research model. Moreover, opposing convergence of morphological traits, they have developed extremely high karyotype variability. Thus, 74 chromosomal forms have been described so far and new ones are being revealed continuously. These evolved during the process of rapid radiation and occur in different biogeographical regions. During research into their reproductive biology we have already provided substantial evidence for species-level separation of these taxa. Here, we review diverse chromosomal forms of the lesser blind mole rat, Mediterranean Nannospalax leucodon, distributed in South-eastern Europe, their karyotype records, biogeography, origin, and phylogeny from our extensive research. In the light of new data from molecular genetic studies, we question some former valuations and propose a cryptospecies rank for seven reproductively isolated chromosomal forms with sympatric and parapatric distribution and clear ecogeographical discrepances in their habitats, as well as new experimental and theoretical methods for understanding the courses of speciation of these unique fossorial mammals.
Keywords:Chromosomal forms; Chromosomal rearrangements; Cryptic species; Cytotypes; Fossorial; Karyotype evolution; Speciation; Underground
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