Morphological comparison of fourteen species of the genus Meriones Illiger, 1811 (Rodentia: Gerbillinae) from Asia and North Africa

Document Type : Research articles

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Abstract

Genus Meriones is the dominant member of gerbils in the Palaearctic region, particularly in
aride region of Asia. This is also one of the most typical genus of subfamily Gerbillinae
with about 17 morphospecies namely: M. persicus, M. hurrianae, M. zarudnyi M. vinogradovi,
M. meridianus, M. libycus, M. crassus, M. tristrami, M. rex, M. tamariscinus, M. unguiculatus, M.
shawi, M. grandis, M. sacramenti, M.dahli, M.chengi, M.arimalius . Of which first eight species
have been recorded from the Iranian Plateau. There are minor differences between some
species and hence, interspecific discrimination of specimens from each species is not
always possible, even by polytechnic methods using different taxonomic characters such
as tympanic bullae, suprameatal triangle and external characters on material from
museums and dental characters on archeozoological materials. Here, 26 morphological
characters of 384 museum specimens belonging to 14 morphospecies of Meriones from
North Africa, Iran and Central Asia were studied. This study review, 14 species of Meriones
and based on the results, it seems that M.libycus, M. crassus and M. meridianus are complex
species and need taxonomic revision. The cladistics analysis shows that M. vinogradovi
could be forming ancestral species of genus Meriones, and west of Caspian Sea could be
the center of origin for Meriones. Due to the presence of convergence regarding adaptation
of different species of Meriones to similar environment, subgeneric morphological
characters may cause homoplasies and paraphyletic subgenera the analysis of
morphological character states matrix, using Mix program of Phylip shows different four
clades that did not conform to the nominative subgenera and unveil probable homoplasy.

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