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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24146. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024146. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

A new basal caniform (Mammalia: Carnivora) from the middle Eocene of North America and remarks on the phylogeny of early carnivorans.

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Museum of Paleontology, and Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States of America.



Despite a long history of research, the phylogenetic origin and initial diversification of the mammalian crown-group Carnivora remain elusive. Well-preserved fossil materials of basal carnivorans are essential for resolving these issues, and for constraining the timing of the carnivoran origin, which constitutes an important time-calibration point in mammalian phylogenetics.


A new carnivoramorphan from the middle Eocene of southern California, Lycophocyon hutchisoni, is described. The new taxon exhibits stages of dental and basicranial evolution that are intermediate between earlier carnivoramorphans and the earliest representatives of canoid carnivorans. The evolutionary affinity of the new taxon was determined by a cladistic analysis of previously-published and newly-acquired morphological data for 30 Paleogene carnivoramorphans. The most-parsimonious trees identified L. hutchisoni as a basal caniform carnivoran, and placed (1) Tapocyon robustus, Quercygale angustidens, "Miacis" sylvestris, "M." uintensis, and "M." gracilis inside or outside the Carnivora, (2) nimravids within the Feliformia, and (3) the amphicyonid Daphoenus outside the crown-group Canoidea. Parsimony reconstructions of ancestral character states suggest that loss of the upper third molars and development of well-ossified entotympanics that are firmly fused to the basicranium (neither condition is observed in L. hutchisoni) are not associated with the origin of the Carnivora as traditionally thought, but instead occurred independently in the Caniformia and the Feliformia. A discriminant analysis of the estimated body weight and dental ecomorphology predicted a mesocarnivorous diet for L. hutchisoni, and the postcranial morphology suggests a scansorial habit.


Lycophocyon hutchisoni illuminates the morphological evolution of early caniforms leading to the origin of crown-group canoids. Considerable uncertainty remains with respect to the phylogenetic origin of the Carnivora. The minimum date of caniform-feliform divergence is provisionally suggested to be either 47 million years ago or 38 million years ago, depending on the position of "Miacis" sylvestris within or outside the Carnivora, respectively.

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