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Mol Biol Evol. 2001 Jul;18(7):1220-30.

Molecular insights into the evolution of the family Bovidae: a nuclear DNA perspective.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa.


The evolutionary history of the family Bovidae remains controversial despite past comprehensive morphological and genetic investigations. In an effort to resolve some of the systematic uncertainties within the group, a combined molecular phylogeny was constructed based on four independent nuclear DNA markers (2,573 characters) and three mitochondrial DNA genes (1,690 characters) for 34 bovid taxa representing all seven of the currently recognized bovid subfamilies. The nuclear DNA fragments were analyzed separately and in combination after partition homogeneity tests were performed. There was no significant rate heterogeneity among lineages, and retention index values indicated the general absence of homoplasy in the nuclear DNA data. The conservative nuclear DNA data were remarkably effective in resolving associations among bovid subfamilies, which had a rapid radiation dating back to approximately 23 MYA. All analyses supported the monophyly of the Bovinae (cow, nilgai, and kudu clade) as a sister lineage to the remaining bovid subfamilies, and the data convincingly suggest that the subfamilies Alcelaphinae (hartebeest, tsessebe, and wildebeest group) and Hippotraginae (roan, sable, and gemsbok clade) share a close evolutionary relationship and together form a sister clade to the more primitive Caprinae (represented by sheep, goat, and muskox). The problematic Reduncinae (waterbuck, reedbuck) seem to be the earliest-diverging group of the Caprinae/Alcelaphinae/Hippotraginae clade, whereas the Antilopinae (gazelle and dwarf antelope clade) were always polyphyletic. The sequence data suggest that the initial diversification of the Bovidae took place in Eurasia and that lineages such as the Cephalophinae and other enigmatic taxa (impala, suni, and klipspringer) most likely originated, more or less contemporaneously, in Africa.

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