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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2001 Nov;21(2):270-84.

Phylogenetic relationships within the eared seals (Otariidae: Carnivora): implications for the historical biogeography of the family.

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Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.


Phylogenetic relationships within the family Otariidae were investigated using two regions of the mitochondrial genome. A 360-bp region of the cytochrome b gene was employed for the primary phylogenetic analysis, while a 356-bp segment of the control region was used to enhance resolution of the terminal nodes. Traditional classification of the family into the subfamilies Arctocephalinae (fur seals) and Otariinae (sea lions) is not supported, with the fur seal Callorhinus ursinus having a basal relationship relative to the rest of the family. This is consistent with the fossil record which suggests that this genus diverged from the line leading to the remaining fur seals and sea lions about 6 million years ago (mya). There is also little evidence to support or refute the monophyly of sea lions. Four sea lion clades and five fur seal clades were observed, but relationships among these clades are unclear. Similar genetic divergences between the sea lion clades (D(a) = 0.054-0.078), as well as between the major Arctocephalus fur seal clades (D(a) = 0.040-0.069) suggest that these groups underwent periods of rapid radiation at about the time they diverged from each other. Rapid radiations of this type make the resolution of relationships between the resulting species difficult and indicate the requirement for additional molecular data from both nuclear and mitochondrial genes. The phylogenetic relationships within the family and the genetic distances among some taxa highlight inconsistencies in the current taxonomic classification of the family.

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