Novel insights into the phylogenetic relationships of the endangered marsupial genus Potorous
The three extant potoroo species of the marsupial genus Potorous – Potorous tridactylus, P. longipes and P. gilbertii – are all of conservation concern due to introduced predators and habitat loss associated with the European settlement of Australia. Robust phylogenies can be useful to inform conservation management, but past phylogenetic studies on potoroos have been unable to fully resolve relationships within the genus. Here, a multi-locus approach was employed, using three mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2, cytochrome oxidase c subunit 1 and 12S rRNA and four nuclear DNA (nuDNA) gene regions: breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene, recombination activating gene-1, apolipoprotein B and omega globin. This was coupled with widespread geographic sampling of the broadly distributed P. tridactylus, to investigate the phylogenetic relationships within this genus. Analyses of the mtDNA identified five distinct and highly divergent lineages including, P. longipes, P. gilbertii and three distinct lineages within P. tridactylus (northern mainland, southern mainland and Tasmanian). P. tridactylus was paraphyletic with the P. gilbertii lineage, suggesting that cryptic taxa may exist within P. tridactylus. NuDNA sequences lacked the resolution of mtDNA. Although they resolved the three currently recognised species, they were unable to differentiate lineages within P. tridactylus. Current management of P. tridactylus as two sub-species (mainland and Tasmania) does not recognise the full scope of genetic diversity within this species, especially that of the mainland populations. Until data from more informative nuDNA markers are available, we recommend this species be managed as the following three subspecies: Potorous tridactylus tridactylus (southern Queensland and northern New South Wales); Potorous tridactylus trisulcatus (southern New SouthWales and Victoria) Potorous tridactylus apicalis (Tasmania). Molecular dating estimated that divergences within Potorous occurred in the late Miocene through to the early Pliocene.