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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2010 Mar;54(3):726-45. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2009.10.033. Epub 2009 Nov 10.

Dogs, cats, and kin: a molecular species-level phylogeny of Carnivora.

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  • 1Biology Department, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, San Juan, PR 00931, Puerto Rico.


Phylogenies underpin comparative biology as high-utility tools to test evolutionary and biogeographic hypotheses, inform on conservation strategies, and reveal the age and evolutionary histories of traits and lineages. As tools, most powerful are those phylogenies that contain all, or nearly all, of the taxa of a given group. Despite their obvious utility, such phylogenies, other than summary 'supertrees', are currently lacking for most mammalian orders, including the order Carnivora. Carnivora consists of about 270 extant species including most of the world's large terrestrial predators (e.g., the big cats, wolves, bears), as well as many of man's favorite wild (panda, cheetah, tiger) and domesticated animals (dog, cat). Distributed globally, carnivores are highly diverse ecologically, having occupied all major habitat types on the planet and being diverse in traits such as sociality, communication, body/brain size, and foraging ecology. Thus, numerous studies continue to address comparative questions within the order, highlighting the need for a detailed species-level phylogeny. Here we present a phylogeny of Carnivora that increases taxon sampling density from 28% in the most detailed primary-data study to date, to 82% containing 243 taxa (222 extant species, 17 subspecies). In addition to extant species, we sampled four extinct species: American cheetah, saber-toothed cat, cave bear and the giant short-faced bear. Bayesian analysis of cytochrome b sequences data-mined from GenBank results in a phylogenetic hypothesis that is largely congruent with prior studies based on fewer taxa but more characters. We find support for the monophyly of Carnivora, its major division into Caniformia and Feliformia, and for all but one family within the order. The only exception is the placement of the kinkajou outside Procyonidae, however, prior studies have already cast doubt on its family placement. In contrast, at the subfamily and genus level, our results indicate numerous problems with current classification. Our results also propose new, controversial hypotheses, such as the possible placement of the red panda (Ailuridae) sister to canids (Canidae). Our results confirm previous findings suggesting that the dog was domesticated from the Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus) and are congruent with the Near East domestication of the cat. In sum, this study presents the most detailed species-level phylogeny of Carnivora to date and a much needed tool for comparative studies of carnivoran species. To demonstrate one such use, we perform a phylogenetic analysis of evolutionary distinctiveness (EDGE), which can be used to help establish conservation priorities. According with those criteria, and under one of the many possible sets of parameters, the highest priority Carnivora species for conservation of evolutionary diversity include: monk seals, giant and red panda, giant otter, otter civet, Owston's palm civet, sea otter, Liberian mongoose, spectacled bear, walrus, binturong, and the fossa.

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