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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2000 May;15(2):314-8.

Molecular phylogenetic examination of the delphinoidea trichotomy: congruent evidence from three nuclear loci indicates that porpoises (Phocoenidae) share a more recent common ancestry with white whales (Monodontidae) than they do with true dolphins (Delphinidae).

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  • 1Biology and Biochemistry, Queen's University of Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.


Porpoises (Phocoenidae), dolphins (Delphinidae), and the two species of Monodontidae (beluga and narwhal) together constitute the superfamily Delphinoidea. Although there is extensive evidence supporting the monophyly of this superfamily, previous studies involving morphology, as well as sequence analysis of mitochondrial genes, have failed to yield a clear picture of the relative relationships within the group. Here we present the first examination of this issue from the perspective of single-copy nuclear genes at the DNA sequence level. The data involve three such loci: von Willebrand factor (vWF), interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein (IRBP), and lactalbumin. The vWF and IRBP data sets consist of protein-coding fragments, whereas the sequenced lactalbumin fragment is predominately intronic. All phylogenetic analyses involving at least one representative from each of the three Delphinoidea families congruently support a beluga/porpoise clade. The levels of sequence divergence for most of these data appear to roughly concur with a paleontological date for the radiation of the Delphinoidea at 11-15 MYA but, in agreement with mitochondrial DNA sequence analyses, suggest that the extant major groups of cetaceans radiated approximately 25 MYA, 10 million years later than inferred from paleontological data.

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