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Two New Species of African Mole-Rats Discovered in Tanzania

Scientists working in Tanzania have discovered and named two new species of the mole-rat genus Fukomys. The research was published in the journal PeerJ.

The Hanang mole-rat (Fukomys hanangensis). Image credit: Chris Faulkes.

The Hanang mole-rat (Fukomys hanangensis). Image credit: Chris Faulkes.

African mole-rats of the family Bathyergidae are burrowing rodents that occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with much of their range subdivided by the Great Rift Valley.

Also known as blesmols, they have been widely studied because of the variation in their social and reproductive behaviors.

More recently, the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) has also emerged as a model species for the study of longevity and cancer resistance.

“A clear understanding of African mole-rats’ biodiversity and evolutionary relationships has become increasingly important, not least because there are many species in the family, but also because there are a number of genetically unique, distinctive populations that are limited in their distribution — two of which we now formally name and describe fully in our paper,” said lead author Dr. Chris Faulkes, a researcher in the School of Biological Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, UK.

These new species, named the Hanang mole-rat (Fukomys hanangensis) and the Livingstone’s mole-rat (Fukomys livingstoni), were found around Mount Hanang and at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, both in Tanzania.

Artist’s impressions (drawn from specimens). Upper image: the Livingstone’s mole-rat (Fukomys livingstoni). Lower image: the Hanang mole-rat (Fukomys hanangensis). Image credit: Rebecca Gelernter, www.nearbirdstudios.com.

Artist’s impressions (drawn from specimens). Upper image: the Livingstone’s mole-rat (Fukomys livingstoni). Lower image: the Hanang mole-rat (Fukomys hanangensis). Image credit: Rebecca Gelernter, www.nearbirdstudios.com.

“The Hanang mole-rat is named after the location where the specimens were first collected around Mount Hanang, Tanzania,” the researchers said.

“Livingstone’s mole-rat is named after Dr. David Livingstone, as Ujiji is the site of the famous meeting on 10 November 1871 when Henry Morton Stanley found the explorer David Livingstone, who many thought to be dead, and uttered the famous words ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’.”

Detailed genetic analysis suggests that geological and volcanic activity isolated these populations subsequent to their earlier dispersal in to this part of East Africa.

The broader scope of the research highlights how genetic data can be used to cross reference the timings of major geological events, and vice versa.

“Our research argues that the biodiversity hotspots in this part of Africa can be understood in terms of landscape evolution in the form of tectonic activity — Rift Valley formation, climatic fluctuations and subsequent expansion and contraction of forest and savannah habitats,” Dr. Faulkes said.

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C.G. Faulkes et al. 2017. Relic populations of Fukomys mole-rats in Tanzania: description of two new species F. livingstoni sp. nov. and F. hanangensis sp. nov. PeerJ 5: e3214; doi: 10.7717/peerj.3214