Zoology (Jena) 2011 Apr 18;114(2):85-94. Epub 2011 Feb 18.
Department of Biology, Roma Tre University, viale Guglielmo Marconi 446, 00146 Rome, Italy.
Despite the well-supported Macroscelidea phylogeny proposed at the end of the 1960s, several systematic arrangements have been suggested in the last 20 years, raising doubts about the phylogeny of the Macroscelidinae; sengi inter-specific relationships are still debated to this day. The main issue of concern involves the supposed Elephantulus diphyly. To solve this persisting debate about sengi phylogeny, we examined the cranium ventral surface of 13 species using geometric morphometric techniques and neighbour-joining algorithms. This study supported the idea that the ventral side of the sengi cranium has the potential to provide important signals for reconstructing the Macroscelidea phylogeny. The phylogenetic signals seemed to differentiate between two major clades in the sengi radiation. In the first clade, the two monospecific genera (Petrodromus and Macroscelides), the two African Horn species (Elephantulus revoilii and E. rufescens), and the only North African species (E. rozeti) were clustered together. The second clade includes the remnant south-central African Elephantulus species. Our results were in agreement with both mitochondrial and nuclear data, confirmed that there is no Elephantulus monophyly and highlighted the close relationship between Petrodromus and E. rozeti. It appears that all the soft-furred sengi species are organised in two evolutionary lines: an old monophyletic clade, comprising only Elephantulus species, and a new polyphyletic clade, including P. tetradactylus, M. proboscideus, and E. rozeti. This requires a taxonomic and nomenclatural rearrangement within Macroscelidinae, where the phylogenetic position of the remnant 4 (of 12) Elephantulus species has yet to be fully defined.