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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2000 Nov;17(2):190-9.

Whence the red panda?

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Department of Geology, The Field Museum, Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605, USA.


The evolutionary history of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) plays a pivotal role in the higher-level phylogeny of the "bear-like" arctoid carnivoran mammals. Characters from morphology and molecules have provided inconsistent evidence for placement of the red panda. Whereas it certainly is an arctoid, there has been major controversy about whether it should be placed with the bears (ursids), ursids plus pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walrus), raccoons (procyonids), musteloids (raccoons plus weasels, skunks, otters, and badgers [mustelids]), or as a monotypic lineage of uncertain phylogenetic affinities. Nucleotide sequence data from three mitochondrial genes and one nuclear intron were analyzed, with more complete taxonomic sampling of relevant taxa (arctoids) than previously available in analyses of primary molecular data, to clarify the phylogenetic relationships of the red panda to other arctoid carnivorans. This study provides detailed phylogenetic analyses (both parsimony and maximum-likelihood) of primary character data for arctoid carnivorans, including bootstrap and decay indices for all arctoid nodes, and three statistical tests of alternative phylogenetic hypotheses for the placement of the red panda. Combined phylogenetic analyses reject the hypotheses that the red panda is most closely related to the bears (ursids) or to the raccoons (procyonids). Rather, evidence from nucleotide sequences strongly support placement of the red panda within a broad Musteloidea (sensu lato) clade, including three major lineages (the red panda, the skunks [mephitids], and a clearly monophyletic clade of procyonids plus mustelids [sensu stricto, excluding skunks]). Within the Musteloidea, interrelationships of the three major lineages are unclear and probably are best considered an unresolved trichotomy. These data provide compelling evidence for the relationships of the red panda and demonstrate that small taxonomic sample sizes can result in misleading or possibly erroneous (based on prior modeling, as well as conflict between the results of our analyses of less and more complete data sets) conclusions about phylogenetic relationships and taxonomy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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