Yellow-bellied or white-bellied? Identity of Arabian house bats (Vespertilionidae: Scotophilus) revealed from mitochondrial DNA and morphology
The yellow-bellied Scotophilus dinganii is the only African house bat species reported to occur in the Arabian Peninsula. Formerly, the Arabian house bats were referred to similar-looking white-bellied S. leucogaster, which differs from S. dinganii mainly by the colour of ventral pelage. We reassessed the taxonomic status of house bats from southwestern Yemen using genetic and morphological analyses. The Yemeni specimens clustered within two distantly related mitochondrial lineages of African Scotophilus: East African S. aff. dinganii, which is a paraphyletic group to S. dinganii s.str. from South Africa, and West African S. leucogaster. This taxonomic assignation was based on published sequences of reference museum specimens. Differences in external and cranial measurements also indicated the presence of two distinct taxa in Yemen. The Yemeni and comparative Ethiopian populations of S. aff. dinganii showed close morphological similarity to the type specimen of S. nigrita colias from Kenya. Because the Yemeni and Ethiopian yellow-bellied house bats cannot be synonymized with S. dinganii, the designation S. colias is tentatively suggested for this particular East African and Yemeni lineage of the S. dinganii complex. However, final correspondence of this name with the respective populations or applicability of some of other available names must yet be explored. Based on environmental differences of the Yemeni localities of origin, S. colias appears to be ecologically delimited to mountainous habitats, while S. leucogaster to harsh lowland deserts. This is consistent with known habitats of African populations of both species.
Key words: cytochrome b, phylogeny, cranial morphometrics, Scotophilus dinganii, Scotophilus leucogaster.