Journal article Open Access

Generic Revision in the Holarctic Ground Squirrel Genus Spermophilus

Helgen, Kristofer M.; Cole, F. Russell; Helgen, Lauren E.; Wilson, Don E.

The substantial body of research on Holarctic ground squirrels amassed over the past century documents considerable variability in morphological, cytogenetic, ecological, and behavioral attributes in the genus Spermophilus F. Cuvier, 1825. Recent molecular phylogenetic studies suggest that the traditionally recognized genera Marmota Blumenbach, 1779 (marmots), Cynomys Rafinesque, 1817 (prairie dogs), and Ammospermophilus Merriam, 1892 (antelope ground squirrels) render Spermophilus paraphyletic, potentially suggesting that multiple generic-level lineages should be credited within Spermophilus. Herein, we recognize 8 genera formerly subsumed in Spermophilus, each of which is morphologically diagnosable, craniometrically distinctive, and recovered as a monophyletic clade in phylogenetic analyses utilizing the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b. Generic-level names are available for each of these ground squirrel assemblages, most of which are exclusively or predominantly North American in distribution (Notocitellus A. H. Howell, 1938; Otospermophilus Brandt, 1844; Callospermophilus Merriam, 1897; Ictidomys J. A. Allen, 1877; Poliocitellus A. H. Howell, 1938; Xerospermophilus Merriam, 1892; and Urocitellus Obolenskij, 1927). Only Spermophilus sensu stricto is restricted to Eurasia. Generic subdivision of Spermophilus more aptly illuminates the taxonomic relationships, ecomorphological disparity, and biogeographic history of Holarctic ground squirrels.

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