Diversity from the Gut to Species: Phylogeny, Population genetics and Microbiome of the Antilope cervicapra
Evolutionary relationships between members of the Antilopina taxon have been much debated in recent years. The ‘true antelope’ clade is currently comprised of 4 genera viz., Gazella, Nanger, Eudorcas and the monotypic genus Antilope, that includes A. cervicapra. Most studies have focused on the mitochondrial genome or morphological data to study their relationships. However, signals from mitochondrial data can often be misleading when compared with nuclear markers, as has been shown in multiple taxonomic groups. In this study, we revisit the phylogenetic relationships among members of Antilopina, particularly the phylogenetic position of A. cervicapra, using 12 nuclear markers and compare it with the mitochondrial tree. Furthermore, we explore the implications of the results of this study on the taxonomy and biogeography of Indian antelopes. The nuclear phylogenetic trees built using multiple coalescent and concatenated methods all supported a paraphyletic genus Gazella. Antilope was nested within Gazella as opposed to being sister to it, which was suggested by previous studies and our results based on mitochondrial markers. Our fossil-calibrated larger bovid phylogeny, based on nuclear markers, suggested that the Antilope lineage diverged from its sister species more recently in the Pleistocene, rather than in late Miocene as per previous studies. Our biogeographic analyses suggest that the lineage leading to genus Antilope dispersed into India from the Saharo-Arabian realm around 2 mya, post the expansion of grasslands. We speculate that the adaptations of this savanna-grassland specialist did not allow them to extend their range beyond the Indian subcontinent. Whereas, the only other true antelope in India, G. bennetti, extended its range into India more recently, probably after the establishment of the Thar desert in northwest India.