Comparative mitogenome phylogeography of two anteater genera (Tamandua and Myrmecophaga; Myrmecophagidae, Xenarthra): Evidence of discrepant evolutionary traits

Manuel Ruiz-García, Daniel Pinilla-Beltrán, Oscar E. Murillo-García, Christian Miguel Pinto, Jorge Brito, Joseph Mark Shostell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The species within Xenarthra (sloths, anteaters, and armadillos) are quintessential South American mammals. Of the three groups, Vermilingua (anteaters) contains the fewest extant and paleontological species. Here, we sampled and sequenced the entire mitochondrial genomes (mitogenomes) of two Tamandua species (Tamandua tetradactyla and Tamandua mexicana) (n=74) from Central and South America, as well as Myrmecophaga tridactyla (n=41) from South America. Within Tamandua, we detected three different haplogroups. The oldest (THI) contained many specimens with the T. tetradactyla morphotype (but also several with the T. mexicana morphotype) and originated in southeastern South America (currently Uruguay) before moving towards northern South America, where the THII haplogroup originated. THII primarily contained specimens with the T. mexicana morphotype (but also several with the T. tetradactyla morphotype) and was distributed in Central America, Colombia, and Ecuador. THI and THII yielded a genetic distance of 4%. THII originated in either northern South America or “in situ” in Central America with haplogroup THIII, which consisted of ~50% T. mexicana and 50% T. tetradactyla phenotypes. THIII was mostly located in the same areas as THII, i.e., Central America, Ecuador, and Colombia, though mainly in the latter. The three haplogroups overlapped in Colombia and Ecuador. Thus, T. tetradactyla and T. mexicana were not reciprocally monophyletic. For this reason, we considered that a unique species of Tamandua likely exists, i.e., T. tetradactyla. In contrast to Tamandua, M. tridactyla did not show different morphotypes throughout its geographical range in the Neotropics. However, two very divergent genetic haplogroups (MHI and MHII), with a genetic distance of ~10%, were detected. The basal haplogroup, MHI, originated in northwestern South America, whereas the more geographically derived haplogroup, MHII, overlapped with MHI, but also expanded into central and southern South America. Thus, Tamandua migrated from south to north whereas Myrmecophaga migrated from north to south. Our results also showed that temporal mitochondrial diversification for Tamandua began during the Late Pliocene and Upper Pleistocene, but for Myrmecophaga began during the Late Miocene. Furthermore, both taxa showed elevated levels of mitochondrial genetic diversity. Tamandua showed more evidence of female population expansion than Myrmecophaga. Tamandua experienced population expansion ~0.6-0.17 million years ago (Mya), whereas Myrmecophaga showed possible population expansion ~0.3-0.2 Mya. However, both taxa experienced a conspicuous female decline in the last 10 000-20 000 years. Our results also showed little spatial genetic structure for both taxa. However, several analyses revealed higher spatial structure in Tamandua than in Myrmecophaga. Therefore, Tamandua and Myrmecophaga were not subjected to the same biogeographical, geological, or climatological events in shaping their genetic structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-547
Number of pages23
JournalZoological research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Diana Alvarez, Pablo Escobar-Armel, Nicolás Lichilín, and Luisa Fernanda Castellanos-Mora for their respective help in obtaining Tamandua and Myrmecophaga samples over the last 20 years. We thank Dr. Enrique Richard and Dr. Juan Pablo Juliá for providing samples of Myrmecophaga from Argentina. We also thank the Ministerio del Ambiente Ecuatoriano (MAE) in Santo Domingo de Tsáchilas and Coca, Instituto von Humboldt (Colombia), Peruvian Ministry of Environment, PRODUCE (Dirección Nacional de Extracción y Procesamiento Pesquero), Consejo Nacional del Ambiente and the Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA) from Peru, Colección Boliviana de Fauna (Dr. Julieta Vargas), and CITES Bolivia for their roles in facilitating the collection permits in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. The first author also thanks the many people of the diverse Indian tribes in Ecuador (Kichwa, Huaorani, Shuar, and Achuar), Colombia (Jaguas, Ticunas, Huitoto, Cocama, Tucano, Nonuya, Yuri, and Yucuna), Peru (Bora, Ocaina, Shipigo-Comibo, Capanahua, Angoteros, Orejón, Cocama, Kishuarana, and Alamas), and Bolivia (Sirionó, Canichana, Cayubaba, and Chacobo) for their assistance in obtaining Tamandua and Myrmecophaga samples, as well as the diverse Mayan communities and people from Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama for their assistance in obtaining Tamandua samples.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Editorial Office of Zoological Research, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences


  • Anteaters
  • Genetic diversity
  • Mitogenomes
  • Myrmecophaga
  • Neotropics
  • Phylogeography
  • Spatial structure
  • Tamandua

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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