Neotropical lowlands harbor the richest fauna on Earth and several historical hypotheses have been developed to explain present-day levels of biodiversity. Molecular-based studies supporting each of these hypotheses usually have been based on qualitative analyses that show genealogical relationships of species in a geographic context. This method may be misleading because such interpretations do not fully consider the inherent genetic variation contained within species. More recently, inferences based on a rigorous statistical framework are explicitly considering random effects and key genetic processes shaping biotic evolution. This project will use these new methods to test historical hypotheses concerning the evolution of a diverse group of spiny-rats, which are widely distributed in Neotropical rainforests.
These rodents are poorly studied despite their critical role as seed dispersers in forest regeneration and disease reservoirs. Applying biologically more realistic methods to understand the evolutionary history of this group of mammals will provide well-resolved patterns of their diversification and biogeography. Moreover, at the unprecedented sampling scales of this project, key insights on the evolution of Neotropical diversity will likely emerge, and can serve as a strong basis for future research and conservation strategies in the Neotropics, particularly in Amazonia and adjacent regions.