The New World rodent family Heteromyidae shows a marvelous array of ecomorphological types, from bipedal, arid-adapted forms to scansorial, tropical-adapted forms. Although recent studies have resolved most of the phylogenetic relationships among heteromyids at the shallower taxonomic levels, fundamental questions at the deeper taxonomic levels remain unresolved. This study relies on DNA sequence information from 3 relatively slowly evolving mitochondrial genes, cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, 12S, and 16S, to examine basal patterns of phylogenesis in the Heteromyidae. Because slowly evolving mitochondrial genes evolve and coalesce more rapidly than most nuclear genes, they may be superior to nuclear genes for resolving short, basal branches. Our molecular data (2,381 base pairs for the 3-gene data set) affirm the monophyly of the family and resolve the major basal clades in the family. Alternative phylogenetic hypotheses of subfamilial relationships are examined statistically and the Perognathinae and Heteromyinae are found to represent sister clades relative to the Dipodomyinae. The 3 traditional subfamilial groupings are supported; the controversial placement of Microdipodops as a sister clade to Dipodomys in the Dipodomyinae is affirmed, Perognathus and Chaetodipus are distinct sister clades within the Perognathinae, and species of Liomys and Heteromys form the resolved clade Heteromyinae. However, Liomys is found to be paraphyletic relative to Heteromys and, given that this finding corroborates earlier studies, we present a formal taxonomy of Heteromys wherein we place Liomys in synonymy. Semiparametric and parametric methods are used to estimate divergence times from our molecular data and a chronogram of the Heteromyidae, calibrated by the oldest known fossils of Dipodomys and Perognathus, is presented. Our time estimates reveal subfamilial differentiation in the early Miocene (22.3–21.8 million years ago) and pose testable times of divergence for the basal heteromyid nodes. With the basal heteromyid clades resolved and cladogenic events positioned in a time framework, we review the major geological and paleoecological events of the Oligocene and Miocene associated with the early historical biogeography of the family.
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