Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has a long history of isolation (160
MY) and a wide range of climates and ecosystems which have in turn resulted in high
levels of endemism across different taxonomic levels. Although Madagascar has a
rich dung beetle fauna that belongs to various tribes only three species of the
Scarabaeini are found there, namely Scarabaeus viettei, S. radama and S. sevoistra.
These three species are superficially quite distinctive and have, consequently, had a
relatively tortured taxonomic history since the first was described in1896. The
morpholgical differences between these species resulted in them being placed in
different genera at different times. However, currently, based on cladistic analysis,
they are all classified in the genus Scarabaeus. In this study, two of the species, S.
viettei and S. radama, were included in a phylogenetic analysis based on two
mitochondrial gene regions - cytochrome oxidase I (COI) and 16S rRNA - and a 247
morphological and behavioural dataset of 23 members of the Scarabaeinae. A
Bayesian phylogram supports the monophyly of the genus Scarabaeus, with the two
species from Madagascar appearing sister to three species of Scarabaeus from southwest
Africa. Estimated times of divergence based on published mutation rates of
0.012 and 0.0075 for COI indicate that a shared African/Madagascan origin occurred
around 15.18 or 24.15 MYA, respectively. This study is another example in support
of Madagascan fauna having an African origin with colonisation having occurred via
dispersal as opposed to ancient vicariant events.