BACKGROUND: Golden moles (Chrysochloridae) are small, subterranean, afrotherian mammals from South Africa and neighboring regions. Of the 21 species now recognized, some (e.g., Chrysochloris asiatica, Amblysomus hottentotus) are relatively common, whereas others (e.g., species of Chrysospalax, Cryptochloris, Neamblysomus) are rare and endangered. Here, we use a combined analysis of partial sequences of the nuclear GHR gene and morphological characters to derive a phylogeny of species in the family Chrysochloridae.
RESULTS: Although not all nodes of the combined analysis have high support values, the overall pattern of relationships obtained from different methods of phylogeny reconstruction allow us to make several recommendations regarding the current taxonomy of golden moles. We elevate Huetia to generic status to include the species leucorhinus and confirm the use of the Linnean binomial Carpitalpa arendsi, which belongs within
Amblysominae along with Amblysomus and Neamblysomus. A second group, Chrysochlorinae, includes Chrysochloris, Cryptochloris, Huetia, Eremitalpa, Chrysospalax, and Calcochloris. Bayesian methods make chrysochlorines paraphyletic by placing the root within them, coinciding with root positions favored by a majority of randomly-generated outgroup taxa. Maximum Parsimony (MP) places the root either between chrysochlorines and amblysomines (with Chlorotalpa as sister taxon to amblysomines), or at Chlorotalpa, with the former two groups reconstructed as monophyletic in all optimal MP trees.
CONCLUSIONS: The inclusion of additional genetic loci for this clade is important to confirm our taxonomic results and resolve the chrysochlorid root. Nevertheless, our optimal topologies support a division of chrysochlorids into
amblysomines and chrysochlorines, with Chlorotalpa intermediate between the two. Furthermore, evolution of the chrysochlorid malleus exhibits homoplasy. The elongate malleus has evolved just once in the Cryptochloris-
Chrysochloris group; other changes in shape have occurred at multiple nodes, regardless of how the root is resolved.