Chromosomal polymorphisms in subterranean mole rats: origins and evolutionary significance


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Two distinct chromosomal polymorphisms, among others, characterize the short (p) and long (qh) arms of chromosome number 1 of the Spalax ehrenbergi complex in Israel. We have studied the geographic distributions of these two polymorphisms in 60 animals belonging to four chromosomal species (2n= 52, 54, 58 and 60). These comprised 15 populations: 12 from continuously distributed populations, two from semi‐isolates, and one isolate in the northern Negev Desert. Our results indicate that: (i) the two polymorphisms are widespread not only within populations and species but most strikingly between different bone marrow cells within an individual; this may reflect a diversity generating mechanism; (ii) the two polymorphisms of p and qh, primarily of p, are correlated with climatic factors of water availability and temperature, as well as geographical distances; these correlations are significantly above those expected by chance, (iii) The semi‐isolates and the isolate display high levels of polymorphism in both p and qh, but particularly in qh, despite the small size population effects. We suggest that at least the polymorphism in p is involved in the adaptive radiation of mole rats into diverse climatic regimes. Furthermore, we speculate that the forces generating chromosomal polymorphisms relevant to speciation (i.e. Robertsonian mutations), coupled with the evolutionary forces operating in small peripherally isolated populations, may be appropriate for the origin of new chromosomal species through peripatric speciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-322
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1988


  • Chromosomal polymorphisms
  • climatic adaptations
  • isolates
  • populations
  • speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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