The biogeography of Dromiciops in southern South America: Middle Miocene transgressions, speciation and associations with Nothofagus

Julian F. Quintero-Galvis, Pablo Saenz-Agudelo, Juan L. Celis-Diez, Guillermo C. Amico, Soledad Vazquez, Aaron B.A. Shafer, Roberto F. Nespolo

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The current distribution of the flora and fauna of southern South America is the result of drastic geological events that occurred during the last 20 million years, including marine transgressions, glaciations and active vulcanism. All these have been associated with fragmentation, isolation and subsequent expansion of the biota, south of 35°S, such as the temperate rainforest. This forest is mostly dominated by Nothofagus trees and is the habitat of the relict marsupial monito del monte, genus Dromiciops, sole survivor of the order Microbiotheria. Preliminary analyses using mtDNA proposed the existence of three main Dromiciops lineages, distributed latitudinally, whose divergence was initially attributed to recent Pleistocene glaciations. Using fossil-calibrated dating on nuclear and mitochondrial genes, here we reevaluate this hypothesis and report an older (Miocene) biogeographic history for the genus. We performed phylogenetic reconstructions using sequences from two mitochondrial DNA and four nuclear DNA genes in 159 specimens from 31 sites across Chile and Argentina. Our phylogenetic analysis resolved three main clades with discrete geographic distributions. The oldest and most differentiated clade corresponds to that of the northern distribution (35.2°S to 39.3°S), which should be considered a distinct species (D. bozinovici, sensu D'Elía et al. 2016). According to our estimations, this species shared a common ancestor with D. gliroides (southern clades) about ~13 million years ago. Divergence time estimates for the southern clades (39.6°S to 42.0°S) ranged from 9.57 to 6.5 Mya. A strong genetic structure was also detected within and between clades. Demographic analyses suggest population size stability for the northern clade (D. bozinovici), and recent demographic expansions for the central and southern clades. All together, our results suggest that the diversification of Dromiciops were initiated by the Middle Miocene transgression (MMT), the massive marine flooding that covered several lowlands of the western face of Los Andes between 37 and 48°S. The MMT resulted from an increase in global sea levels at the Miocene climatic optimum, which shaped the biogeographic origin of several species, including Nothofagus forests, the habitat of Dromiciops.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107234
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Dromiciops bozinovici
  • Dromiciops gliroides
  • Microbiotheria
  • Middle Miocene Transgression
  • Nothofagus
  • Phylogeography


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