The Long and Short of It: Branch Lengths and the Problem of Placing the New Zealand Short-Tailed Bat, Mystacina

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 1999 Nov;13(2):405-16. doi: 10.1006/mpev.1999.0660.


The taxonomic position of the endemic New Zealand bat genus Mystacina has vexed systematists ever since its erection in 1843. Over the years the genus has been linked with many microchiropteran families and superfamilies. Most recent classifications place it in the Vespertilionoidea, although some immunological evidence links it with the Noctilionoidea (=Phyllostomoidea). We have sequenced 402 bp of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene for M. tuberculata (Gray in Dieffenbach, 1843), and using both our own and published DNA sequences for taxa in both superfamilies, we applied different tree reconstruction methods to find the appropriate phylogeny and different methods of estimating confidence in the parts of the tree. All methods strongly support the classification of Mystacina in the Noctilionoidea. Spectral analysis suggests that parsimony analysis may be misleading for Mystacina's precise placement within the Noctilionoidea because of its long terminal branch. Analyses not susceptible to long-branch attraction suggest that the Mystacinidae is a sister family to the Phyllostomidae. Dating the divergence times between the different taxa suggests that the extant chiropteran families radiated around and shortly after the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. We discuss the biogeographical implications of classifying Mystacina within the Noctilionoidea and contrast our result with those classifications placing Mystacina in the Vespertilionoidea, concluding that evidence for the latter is weak.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Chiroptera / classification*
  • Chiroptera / genetics*
  • Cytochrome b Group / genetics*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • New Zealand
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Time Factors


  • Cytochrome b Group
  • DNA

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF144064
  • GENBANK/AF144065
  • GENBANK/AF144066
  • GENBANK/AF144067
  • GENBANK/AF144068
  • GENBANK/AF144069
  • GENBANK/AF144070
  • GENBANK/AF144071
  • GENBANK/AF144072
  • GENBANK/AF144073