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J Mol Evol. 1996 Dec;43(6):641-9.

Phylogenetic relationships within caniform carnivores based on analyses of the mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene.

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Department of Genetics, University of Lund, Sweden.


The complete 12S rRNA gene of 32 carnivore species, including four feliforms and 28 caniforms, was sequenced. The sequences were aligned on the basis of their secondary structures and used in phylogenetic analyses that addressed several evolutionary relationships within the Caniformia. The analyses showed an unresolved polytomy of the basic caniform clades; pinnipeds, mustelids, procyonids, skunks, Ailurus (lesser panda), ursids, and canids. The polytomy indicates a major diversification of caniforms during a relatively short period of time. The lesser panda was distinct from other caniforms, suggesting its inclusion in a monotypic family, Ailuridae. The giant panda and the bears were joined on the same branch. The skunks are traditionally included in the family Mustelidae. The present analysis, however, showed a less close molecular relationship between the skunks and the remaining Mustelidae (sensu stricto) than between Mustelidae (sensu stricto) and Procyonidae, making Mustelidae (sensu lato) paraphyletic. The results suggest that the skunks should be included in a separate family, Mephitidae. Within the Pinnipedia, the grouping of walrus, sea lions, and fur seals was strongly supported. Analyses of a combined set of 12S rRNA and cytochrome b data were generally consistent with the findings based on each gene.

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