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Phylogenomic systematics of the spotted skunks (Carnivora, Mephitidae, Spilogale): Additional species diversity and Pleistocene climate change as a major driver of diversification

By Molly M. McDonough, Adam W Ferguson, Robert C. Dowler, Matthew Gompper, Jesus Maldonado

Posted 25 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.23.353045

Four species of spotted skunks (Carnivora, Mephitidae, Spilogale ) are currently recognized: Spilogale angustifrons, S. gracilis, S. putorius, and S. pygmaea . Understanding species boundaries within this group is critical for effective conservation given that regional populations or subspecies (e.g., S. p. interrupta ) have experienced significant population declines. Further, there may be currently unrecognized diversity within this genus as some taxa (e.g., S. angustifrons ) and geographic regions (e.g., Central America) never have been assessed using DNA sequence data. We analyzed species limits and diversification patterns in spotted skunks using multilocus nuclear (ultraconserved elements) and mitochondrial (whole mitogenomes and single gene analysis) data sets from broad geographic sampling representing all currently recognized species and subspecies. We found a high degree of genetic divergence among Spilogale that reflects seven distinct species and eight unique mitochondrial lineages. Initial divergence between S. pygmaea and all other Spilogale occurred in the Early Pliocene (~ 5.0 million years ago) which was followed by subsequent diversification of the remaining Spilogale into an eastern and western lineage during the Early Pleistocene (~1.5 million years ago). These two lineages experienced temporally coincident patterns of diversification at ~0.66 and ~0.35 million years ago into two and ultimately three distinct evolutionary units, respectively. Diversification was confined almost entirely within the Pleistocene during a timeframe characterized by alternating glacial-interglacial cycles, with the origin of this diversity occurring in northeastern Mexico and the southwestern United States of America. Mitochondrial-nuclear discordance was recovered across three lineages in geographic regions consistent with secondary contact, including a distinct mitochondrial lineage confined to the Sonoran Desert. Our results have direct consequences for conservation of threatened populations, or species, as well as for our understanding of the evolution of delayed implantation in this enigmatic group of small carnivores. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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