Genetic polymorphisms in subterranean mammals (Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies) in the near east revisited: Patterns and theory

Eviatar Nevo, M. Grazia Filippucci, Avigdor Beiles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Allozyme diversity in the superspecies Spalax ehrenbergi has been revisited by studying 36 gene loci in 241 subterranean mole rats from 22 populations and nine chromosomal species, four from Turkey (2n = 52E (east), 52W (west), 56 and 58), four from Israel (2n = 52, 54, 58 and 60), and one from Egypt (2n = 60). The following results were indicated. (1) Genetic patterns: 11 of the 36 loci analysed (30.5 per cent) were monomorphic across the range, fifteen (41.7 per cent) were weakly polymorphic and the remaining 10 loci (27.8 per cent) were strongly polymorphic. (2) Heterozygosity: the average H was 0.051, range 0.00-0.098. In Israel, H increased with aridity and climatic unpredictability towards the northern Negev Desert, and was remarkably high in small steppic semi-isolates and desert isolates. (3) Species discrimination: some of the S. ehrenbergi species can be discriminated qualitatively. (4) Genetic distances (D): between species these values averaged 0.077, range 0.001-0.269, with the highest D between the ancestor Turkish and descendant Israeli and Egyptian species. The phylogenetic tree supports the Turkish origin of the Israeli Spalax ehrenbergi species, and the recent speciation of the Egyptian Spalax. (5) Genetic diversity is mostly (58 per cent) within populations. (6) Allozyme correlates: allozyme diversity was significantly correlated with the external physical (both climatic and edaphic) and biotic (parasite infection and plant cover) environment. (7) Spatial autocorrelation of allozyme frequencies suggests that migration is not influential. (8) Gametic phase disequilibria were significant in four out of five species tested, and were associated with climatic and edaphic factors. These results support the environmental selection hypothesis of genetic diversity including the niche-width variation hypothesis in space and time. Natural selection appears to play a major role in genetic differentiation of proteins in adaptive radiation and speciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-487
Number of pages23
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1994


  • Allozyme polymorphisms
  • Mole rats
  • Natural selection
  • Phylogenetic tree
  • Spalax ehrenbergi
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics


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