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Syst Biol. 1999 Mar;48(1):119-37.

Assessing the Cretaceous superordinal divergence times within birds and placental mammals by using whole mitochondrial protein sequences and an extended statistical framework.

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  • 1Institute of Statistical Mathematics, 4-6-7 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8569, Japan.

Erratum in

  • Syst Biol 1999 Sep;48(3):681.


Using the set of all vertebrate mtDNA protein sequences published as of May 1998, plus unpublished examples for elephant and birds, we examined divergence times in Placentalia and Aves. Using a parsimony-based test, we identified a subset of slower evolutionary rate placental sequences that do not appear to violate the clock assumption. Analyzing just these sequences decreases support for Marsupionta and the carnivore + perissodactyl group but increases support for armadillo diverging earlier than rabbit (which may represent the whole Glires group). A major theme of the paper is to use more comprehensive estimates of divergence time standard error (SE). From the well-studied horse/rhino split, estimated to be 55 million years before present (mybp), the splitting time within carnivores is confidently shown to be older than 50 million years. Some of our estimates of divergence times within placentals are relatively old, at up to 169 million years, but are within 2 SE of other published estimates. The whale/cow split at 65 mybp may be older than commonly assumed. All the sampled splits between the main groups of fereuungulates (the clade of carnivores, cetartiodactyls, perissodactyls, and pholidotes) seem to be distinctly before the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Analyses suggest a close relationship between elephants (representing Afrotheria) and armadillos (Xenarthra), and our timing of this splitting is coincident with the opening of the South Atlantic, a major vicariant event. Recalibrating with this event (at 100 mybp), we obtain younger estimates for the earliest splits among placentals. Divergence times within birds are also assessed by using previously unpublished sequences. We fail to reject a clock for all bird taxa available. Unfortunately, available deep calibration points for birds are questionable, so a new calibration based on the age of the Anseriform stem lineage is estimated. The divergence time of rhea and ostrich may be much more recent than commonly assumed, while that of passerines may be older. Our major concern is the rooting point of the bird subtree, as the nearest outgroup (alligator) is very distant.

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