Analysis of the modern distribution of South African Gerbilliscus (Rodentia: Gerbillinae) with implications for Plio-Pleistocene palaeoenvironmental reconstruction

Research Article
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28 January 2011

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There are four extant species of Gerbilliscus, formally classified as Tatera, native to the southern African subregion, each exhibiting varying degrees of environmental tolerance. These species are also routinely reported from many of the palaeontological and archaeological sites in the region. We used a geographic information systems analysis to examine the distribution of modern Gerbilliscus by georeferencing museum specimens. The distribution of Gerbilliscus was then compared to the latest treatment of the vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland in order to quantify the genus’s environmental tolerances and propose a new niche model for this taxon. Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions are made possible by defining the tolerance limits of modern taxa that have persisted relatively unchanged throughout the Plio-Pleistocene. Tolerance limits can then be applied to fossil-bearing localities where these taxa are known to have occurred in the past. Results from our analysis indicated that Gerbilliscus exhibits a wide range of environmental tolerances that must be considered when reconstructing palaeoenvironments.

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