In parallel with the growing body of molecular data bearing on the relationships of muroids, particularly subterranean lineages, the relevant fossil record has improved to the point that its data constrain scenarios of evolution about both the timing and mode of evolution of burrowing muroids, especially bamboo rats, blind mole rats, and zokors. Morphologists have considered these groups phylogenetically distinct from each other, but the three lineages appear to be related as a monophyletic Family Spalacidae, sister taxon to all other living muroids, based on both nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Although living genera are fully subterranean, the fossil record shows that the three groups evolved burrowing characteristics independently. Bamboo rats (Rhizomyinae) have the longest fossil record, extending into the Late Oligocene, but do not show fossorial traits until the Late Miocene. Blind mole rats (Spalacinae) have a fossil record nearly that long, and its early members also lack burrowing traits. Zokors (Myospalacinae) show characteristics considered derived relative to other groups, and have a shorter fossil record. The fossil record of the Tribe Rhizomyini, living Asian bamboo rats, extends to about 10 million years ago, with early species distinct at the generic level from living Rhizomys. The oldest well-known species assignable to an extant genus is Rhizomys (Brachyrhizomys) shansius from the early Pliocene of Yushe Basin, China, north of the geographic range of modern Rhizomys. A hypothesis of close relationship of bamboo rats, blind mole rats, and zokors leads to a reevaluation of affinities of certain Asian fossil taxa and reevaluation of polarity of some features, but molecular data are not yet robust enough to clarify interrelationships of the groups. Morphological and fossil data suggest that myospalacines are more closely related to rhizomyines than to spalacines, and that known Early Miocene rhizomyines are close to the stem zokor morphotype.
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Vol. 2009 • No. 331