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Open Access Research article

Burrow characteristics of the co-existing sibling species Mus booduga and Mus terricolor and the genetic basis of adaptation to hypoxic/hypercapnic stress

Sunita Singh14*, Nge Cheong2, Gopeshwar Narayan3 and T Sharma4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi – 221005, India

2 Bioprocessing Technology Centre, Clinical Research Centre, Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore – 119 260, Singapore

3 Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi – 221005, India

4 Cytogenetics Laboratory, Department of Zoology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi – 221 005, India

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BMC Ecology 2009, 9:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-9-6

Published: 9 April 2009



The co-existing, sibling species Mus booduga and Mus terricolor show a difference in site-preference for burrows. The former build them in flat portion of the fields while the latter make burrows in earthen mounds raised for holding water in cultivated fields. In northern India which experiences great variation in climatic condition between summer and winter, M. booduga burrows have an average depth of 41 cm, as against 30 cm in southern India with less climatic fluctuation.

M. terricolor burrows are about 20 cm deep everywhere. The three chromosomal species M. terricolor I, II and III have identical burrows, including location of the nest which is situated at the highest position. In contrast, in M. booduga burrows, the nest is at the lowest position.


The nest chamber of M. booduga is located at greater depth than the nest chamber of M. terricolor. Also, in the burrows of M. booduga the exchange of air takes place only from one side (top surface) in contrast to the burrows of M. terricolor where air exchange is through three sides. Hence, M. booduga lives in relatively more hypoxic and hypercapnic conditions than M. terricolor.

We observed the fixation of alternative alleles in M. booduga and M. terricolor at Superoxide dismutase-1 (Sod-1), Transferrin (Trf) and Hemoglobin beta chain (Hbb) loci. All the three are directly or indirectly dependent on oxygen concentration for function. In addition to these, there are differences in burrow patterns and site-preference for burrows suggesting difference in probable adaptive strategy in these co-existing sibling species.


The burrow structure and depth of nest of the chromosomal species M. terricolor I, II and III are same everywhere probably due to the recency of their evolutionary divergence. Moreover, there is lack of competition for the well-adapted 'microhabitats' since they are non-overlapping in distribution. However, the co-existing sibling species M. booduga and M. terricolor exhibit mutual "exclusion" of the 'microhabitats' for burrow construction. Thus, location, structure and depth of the burrows might have been the contributory factors for selection of alternative alleles at three loci Sod-1, Trf and Hbb, which reflect difference in probable adaptive strategy in M. booduga and M. terricolor.