Reproductive rates in Australian rodents are related to phylogeny

Eli Geffen, Kevin C. Rowe, Yoram Yom-Tov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The native rodents of Australia are commonly divided into two groups based on the time of their colonization of the Sahulian continent, which encompasses Australia, New Guinea, and the adjacent islands. The first group, the "old endemics," is a diverse assemblage of 34 genera that are descended from a single colonization of the continent during the Pliocene. A second group, the "new endemics," is composed of several native Rattus species that are descended from a single colonization during the Pleistocene. Finally, a third group is composed of three non-native species of Rattus and Mus introduced into Australia by humans over the last 200 years. Previous studies have claimed that the three groups differ in their reproductive rates and that this variation in rates is associated with the unique environmental conditions across Australia. We examined these hypotheses using phylogenetically controlled methods. Methodology and Results: We examined the relationship between the reproductive rates of the Australian rodents and the environmental variations across the continent, as well as the epoch of their colonization of the continent. Our results revealed no significant correlation with environmental variables but a significant association between colonization age and all the reproductive parameters examined. Discussion: Based on a larger phylogeny of the subfamily Murinae, we showed that significant differences in reproductive rates among colonization groups are shared with their closest relatives outside Sahul. Therefore, the lower reproductive rates in the old endemics are more likely to be the result of phylogenetic history and conservation of traits than an adaptation to the Australian environment. In the new endemics, we found a trend of increasing reproductive rates with diversification. We suggest that the differences in reproductive rates of the old endemic rodents and the native Rattus represent alternative adaptive strategies that have allowed them to utilize similar ecological niches across Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere19199
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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