Molecular phylogeny of the carnivora (mammalia): assessing the impact of increased sampling on resolving enigmatic relationships

Syst Biol. 2005 Apr;54(2):317-37. doi: 10.1080/10635150590923326.


This study analyzed 76 species of Carnivora using a concatenated sequence of 6243 bp from six genes (nuclear TR-i-I, TBG, and IRBP; mitochondrial ND2, CYTB, and 12S rRNA), representing the most comprehensive sampling yet undertaken for reconstructing the phylogeny of this clade. Maximum parsimony and Bayesian methods were remarkably congruent in topologies observed and in nodal support measures. We recovered all of the higher level carnivoran clades that had been robustly supported in previous analyses (by analyses of morphological and molecular data), including the monophyly of Caniformia, Feliformia, Arctoidea, Pinnipedia, Musteloidea, Procyonidae + Mustelidae sensu stricto, and a clade of (Hyaenidae + (Herpestidae + Malagasy carnivorans)). All of the traditional "families," with the exception of Viverridae and Mustelidae, were robustly supported as monophyletic groups. We further have determined the relative positions of the major lineages within the Caniformia, which previous studies could not resolve, including the first robust support for the phylogenetic position of marine carnivorans (Pinnipedia) within the Arctoidea (as the sister-group to musteloids [sensu lato], with ursids as their sister group). Within the pinnipeds, Odobenidae (walrus) was more closely allied with otariids (sea lions/fur seals) than with phocids ("true" seals). In addition, we recovered a monophyletic clade of skunks and stink badgers (Mephitidae) and resolved the topology of musteloid interrelationships as: Ailurus (Mephitidae (Procyonidae, Mustelidae [sensu stricto])). This pattern of interrelationships of living caniforms suggests a novel inference that large body size may have been the primitive condition for Arctoidea, with secondary size reduction evolving later in some musteloids. Within Mustelidae, Bayesian analyses are unambiguous in supporting otter monophyly (Lutrinae), and in both MP and Bayesian analyses Martes is paraphyletic with respect to Gulo and Eira, as has been observed in some previous molecular studies. Within Feliformia, we have confirmed that Nandinia is the outgroup to all other extant feliforms, and that the Malagasy Carnivora are a monophyletic clade closely allied with the mongooses (Herpestidae [sensu stricto]). Although the monophyly of each of the three major feliform clades (Viverridae sensu stricto, Felidae, and the clade of Hyaenidae + (Herpestidae + Malagasy carnivorans)) is robust in all of our analyses, the relative phylogenetic positions of these three lineages is not resolvable at present. Our analyses document the monophyly of the "social mongooses," strengthening evidence for a single origin of eusociality within the Herpestidae. For a single caniform node, the position of pinnipeds relative to Ursidae and Musteloidea, parsimony analyses of data for the entire Carnivora did not replicate the robust support observed for both parsimony and Bayesian analyses of the caniform ingroup alone. More detailed analyses and these results demonstrate that outgroup choice can have a considerable effect on the strength of support for a particular topology. Therefore, the use of exemplar taxa as proxies for entire clades with diverse evolutionary histories should be approached with caution. The Bayesian analysis likelihood functions generally were better able to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships (increased resolution and more robust support for various nodes) than parsimony analyses when incompletely sampled taxa were included. Bayesian analyses were not immune, however, to the effects of missing data; lower resolution and support in those analyses likely arise from non-overlap of gene sequence data among less well-sampled taxa. These issues are a concern for similar studies, in which different gene sequences are concatenated in an effort to increase resolving power.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Carnivora / genetics*
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Prealbumin / genetics
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Sample Size
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Thyroxine-Binding Proteins / genetics


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Eye Proteins
  • Prealbumin
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins
  • Thyroxine-Binding Proteins
  • interstitial retinol-binding protein