Phylogeography of a morphologically cryptic golden mole assemblage from South-Eastern Africa

The Greater Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany (GMPA) region of southern Africa was recently designated as a centre of vertebrate endemism. The phylogeography of the vertebrate taxa occupying this region may provide insights into the evolution of faunal endemism in south-eastern Africa. Here we investigate the phylogeographic patterns of an understudied small mammal species assemblage ( Amblysomus ) endemic to the GMPA, to test for cryptic diversity within the genus, and to better understand diversification across the region. We sampled specimens from 50 sites across the distributional range of Amblysomus , with emphasis on the widespread A . hottentotus , to analyse geographic patterns of genetic diversity using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear intron data. Molecular dating was used to elucidate the evolutionary and phylogeographic history of Amblysomus . Our phylogenetic reconstructions show that A . hottentotus comprises several distinct lineages, or evolutionarily significant units (ESUs), some with restricted geographic ranges and thus worthy of conservation attention. Divergence of the major lineages dated to the early Pliocene, with later radiations in the GMPA during the late-Pliocene to early-Pleistocene. Evolutionary diversification within Amblysomus may have been driven by uplift of the Great Escarpment c. 5-3 million years ago (Ma), habitat changes associated with intensification of the east-west rainfall gradient across South Africa and the influence of subsequent global climatic cycles. These drivers possibly facilitated geographic spread of ancestral lineages, local adaptation and vicariant isolation. Our study adds to growing empirical evidence identifying East and southern Africa as cradles of vertebrate diversity.