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Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Oct;19(10):1656-71.

Molecular phylogeny of living xenarthrans and the impact of character and taxon sampling on the placental tree rooting.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Paléontologie, Paléobiologie et Phylogénie, Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, Université Montpellier II, Montpellier, France.


Extant xenarthrans (armadillos, anteaters and sloths) are among the most derived placental mammals ever evolved. South America was the cradle of their evolutionary history. During the Tertiary, xenarthrans experienced an extraordinary radiation, whereas South America remained isolated from other continents. The 13 living genera are relics of this earlier diversification and represent one of the four major clades of placental mammals. Sequences of the three independent protein-coding nuclear markers alpha2B adrenergic receptor (ADRA2B), breast cancer susceptibility (BRCA1), and von Willebrand Factor (VWF) were determined for 12 of the 13 living xenarthran genera. Comparative evolutionary dynamics of these nuclear exons using a likelihood framework revealed contrasting patterns of molecular evolution. All codon positions of BRCA1 were shown to evolve in a strikingly similar manner, and third codon positions appeared less saturated within placentals than those of ADRA2B and VWF. Maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses of a 47 placental taxa data set rooted by three marsupial outgroups resolved the phylogeny of Xenarthra with some evidence for two radiation events in armadillos and provided a strongly supported picture of placental interordinal relationships. This topology was fully compatible with recent studies, dividing placentals into the Southern Hemisphere clades Afrotheria and Xenarthra and a monophyletic Northern Hemisphere clade (Boreoeutheria) composed of Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires. Partitioned likelihood statistical tests of the position of the root, under different character partition schemes, identified three almost equally likely hypotheses for early placental divergences: a basal Afrotheria, an Afrotheria + Xenarthra clade, or a basal Xenarthra (Epitheria hypothesis). We took advantage of the extensive sampling realized within Xenarthra to assess its impact on the location of the root on the placental tree. By resampling taxa within Xenarthra, the conservative Shimodaira-Hasegawa likelihood-based test of alternative topologies was shown to be sensitive to both character and taxon sampling.

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