A molecular phylogeny of two extinct sloths

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2001 Jan;18(1):94-103. doi: 10.1006/mpev.2000.0860.


Xenarthra (Edentata) is an extremely diverse mammalian order whose modern representatives are the armadillos, anteaters, and sloths. The phylogeny of these groups is poorly resolved. This is particularly true for the sloths (phyllophagans), originally a large and diverse group now reduced to two genera in two different families. Both morphological analyses and molecular analyses of rDNA genes of living and extinct sloths have been used with limited success to elucidate their phylogeny. In an attempt to clarify relationships among the sloths, DNA was extracted and mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences were determined from representatives of two extinct groups of sloths (Mylodontidae and Megatheriidae), their two living relatives (two-toed sloths [Megalonychidae], three-toed sloths [Bradypodidae]), anteaters and armadillos. A consistent feature of the latter two species was the nuclear copies of cytochrome b gene sequences. Several methods of phylogenetic reconstruction were applied to the sequences determined, and the results were compared with 12S rDNA sequences obtained in previous studies. The cytochrome b gene exhibited a phylogenetic resolving power similar to that of the 12S rDNA sequences. When both data sets were combined, they tended to support the grouping of two-toed sloths with mylodontids and three-toed sloths with megatheriids. The results strengthen the view that the two families of living sloths adapted independently to an arboreal life-style.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Armadillos / classification
  • Armadillos / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytochrome b Group / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Sloths / classification*
  • Sloths / genetics*
  • Xenarthra / classification
  • Xenarthra / genetics


  • Cytochrome b Group
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, ribosomal, 12S

Associated data

  • GENBANK/Y11832