The new framework for understanding placental mammal evolution

Bioessays. 2009 Aug;31(8):853-64. doi: 10.1002/bies.200900053.


An unprecedented level of confidence has recently crystallized around a new hypothesis of how living placental mammals share a pattern of common descent. The major groups are afrotheres (e.g., aardvarks, elephants), xenarthrans (e.g., anteaters, sloths), laurasiatheres (e.g., horses, shrews), and euarchontoglires (e.g., humans, rodents). Compared with previous hypotheses this tree is remarkably stable; however, some uncertainty persists about the location of the placental root, and (for example) the position of bats within laurasiatheres, of sea cows and aardvarks within afrotheres, and of dermopterans within euarchontoglires. A variety of names for sub-clades within the new placental mammal tree have been proposed, not all of which follow conventions regarding priority and stability. More importantly, the new phylogenetic framework enables the formulation of new hypotheses and testing thereof, for example regarding the possible developmental dichotomy that seems to distinguish members of the newly identified southern and northern radiations of living placental mammals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Dentition
  • Female
  • Mammals / classification
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Placenta / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Spine / pathology