, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 1589-1604
Date: 29 Jan 2008

Establishing the foundation for an applied molecular taxonomy of otters in Southeast Asia

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Four species of otters (Mustelidae, Lutrinae) occur in Southeast Asia and are considered to be of conservation concern: Aonyx cinerea (Asian small-clawed otter), Lutra lutra (Eurasian otter), Lutra sumatrana (Hairy-nosed otter), and Lutrogale perspicillata (Smooth-coated otter). Among these, L. sumatrana is endemic to the region, yet little is known about its biology, and the precise distribution of all four species in Southeast Asia is not well known. Furthermore, the taxonomy and systematics of L. sumatrana and L. perspicillata have been the subject of controversy, which has implications for the legal protection and for conservation programs of these taxa. To resolve these controversies, we used a multigene data set comprised of segments from 13 nuclear and 5 mitochondrial loci (11,180 nucleotides) to evaluate the phylogenetic relationships of Asian Old World otters. Phylogenies were also estimated using two mitochondrial loci (1,832 nucleotides) obtained from two or more individuals of the four Southeast Asian species. The results from maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference showed that L. sumatrana and L. lutra are sister taxa, whereas L. perspicillata is sister to A. cinerea. Furthermore, the results from the two-mitochondrial gene analyses indicate that L. sumatrana is reciprocally monophyletic with respect to L. lutra, supporting the specific validity of the former taxon. Signs such as tracks and feces are often used in field surveys to provide information on the distribution and abundance of otters, but the accuracy of these methods may be compromised when several closely related species occur sympatrically. Therefore, the two-gene data set was used to develop a provisional set of diagnostic nucleotides that can be potentially used to identify the four species of Southeast Asian otters from noninvasively collected biological samples, such as feces.