Variations of molar morphology in the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies: adaptive and phylogenetic significance

P. M. Butler, E. Nevo, A. Beiles, S. Simson

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This study compares and contrasts variations of enamel fold pattern on the crowns of the molars of subterranean mole rats (Spalax) belonging to two superspecies, S. ehrenbergi and S. leucodon, and involving about 20 chromosomal species, distributed parapatrically and ranging on different soil types. The sample studied involved 397 skulls, subdivided as follows: 280 of S. ehrenbergi from Israel, representing the four chromosomal species 2n = 52, 54, 58 and 60; 59 of S. ehrenbergi from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey; 58 of S. leucodon from Turkey. In making the comparisons it was necessary to take into account the marked changes of molar pattern that take place as a result of wear. There is a reasonably good agreement between differences of molar pattern and genetic and immunological distances. The species in Israel and Egypt form a compact group, clearly differentiated from Turkish leucodon; ehrenbergi from Turkey and Syria are intermediate, in accordance with their geographical distribution. In Israel, differences associated with soil type are at about the same level as differences between species. Local populations show a higher level of diversity, and in a number of cases neighbouring populations differed significantly, sometimes over very short distances. Population differences within species are generally associated with differences of soil and vegetation, indicating the influence of natural selection. There are also differences across species boundaries, implying a phylogenetic (heritage) effect. The nature of the adaptive link between molar pattern and soil is unknown: possible factors are contamination of the food by soil, and toughness of the food which necessitates changes of enamel fold length to improve grinding efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-216
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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