Collagen sequence analysis reveals evolutionary history of extinct West Indies Nesophontes (‘island shrews’)

Michael Buckley, Virginia Harvey, J Orihuela, A Mychajliw, Joseph Keating, J Almonte Milan, Craig Lawless, Andrew Chamberlain, Victoria Egerton, Phillip Manning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ancient biomolecule analyses are proving increasingly useful in the study of evolutionary patterns, including extinct organisms. Proteomic sequencing techniques complement genomic approaches, having the potential to examine lineages further back in time than achievable using ancient DNA, given the less stringent preservation requirements. In this study, we demonstrate the ability to use collagen sequence analyses via proteomics to assist species delimitation as a foundation for informing evolutionary patterns. We uncover biogeographic information of an enigmatic and recently extinct lineage of Nesophontes across their range on the Caribbean islands. First, evolutionary relationships reconstructed from collagen sequences reaffirm the affinity of Nesophontes and Solenodon as sister taxa within Solenodonota. This relationship helps lay the foundation for testing geographical isolation hypotheses across islands within the Greater Antilles, including movement from Cuba toward Hispaniola. Second, our results are consistent with Cuba having just two species of Nesophontes (N. micrus and N. major) that exhibit intrapopulation morphological variation. Finally, analysis of the recently described species from the Cayman Islands (N. hemicingulus) indicates that it is a closer relative to N. major rather than N. micrus as previously speculated. This proteomic sequencing improves our understanding of the origin, evolution, and distribution of this extinct mammal lineage, particularly with respect to the approximate timing of speciation. Such knowledge is vital for this biodiversity hotspot, where the magnitude of recent extinctions may obscure true estimates of species richness in the past.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsaa137
Pages (from-to)2931-2943
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2020


  • Biogeography
  • Collagen fingerprinting
  • Nesophontes
  • Paleoproteomics
  • Phylogenetics


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