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Mitogenome of the extinct Desert ‘rat-kangaroo’ times the adaptation to aridity in macropodoids

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posted on 2022-05-09, 06:58 authored by Michael WestermanMichael Westerman, S Loke, MH Tan, BP Kear
The evolution of Australia’s distinctive marsupial fauna has long been linked to the onset of continent-wide aridity. However, how this profound climate change event affected the diversification of extant lineages is still hotly debated. Here, we assemble a DNA sequence dataset of Macropodoidea—the clade comprising kangaroos and their relatives—that incorporates a complete mitogenome for the Desert ‘rat-kangaroo’, Caloprymnus campestris. This enigmatic species went extinct nearly 90 years ago and is known from a handful of museum specimens. Caloprymnus is significant because it was the only macropodoid restricted to extreme desert environments, and therefore calibrates the group’s specialisation for increasingly arid conditions. Our robustly supported phylogenies nest Caloprymnus amongst the bettongs Aepyprymnus and Bettongia. Dated ancestral range estimations further reveal that the Caloprymnus-Bettongia lineage originated in nascent xeric settings during the middle to late Miocene, ~ 12 million years ago (Ma), but subsequently radiated into fragmenting mesic habitats after the Pliocene to mid-Pleistocene. This timeframe parallels the ancestral divergences of kangaroos in woodlands and forests, but predates their adaptive dispersal into proliferating dry shrublands and grasslands from the late Miocene to mid-Pleistocene, after ~ 7 Ma. We thus demonstrate that protracted changes in both climate and vegetation likely staged the emergence of modern arid zone macropodoids.


Open access funding provided by Uppsala University. Aspects of this work were supported by a Swedish Research Council Young Researcher grant (2011-3637), and a Swedish Research Council Project grant (2020-3423) to B.P.K.


Publication Date



Scientific Reports





Article Number

ARTN 5829




Springer Nature



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