The mammalian order Carnivora has attracted the attention of scientists of various disciplines for decades, leading to intense interest in defining its supra-familial relationships. In the last few years, major changes to the topological structure of the carnivoran tree have been proposed and supported by various molecular data sets, radically changing the traditional view of family composition in this order. Although a sequence of molecular studies have established a growing consensus with respect to most inter-familial relationships, no analysis so far has included all carnivoran lineages (both feliform and caniform) in an integrated data set, so as to determine comparative patterns of diversification. Moreover, no study conducted thus far has estimated divergence dates among all carnivoran families, which is an important requirement in the attempt to understand the patterns and tempo of diversification in this group. In this study, we have investigated the phylogenetic relationships among carnivoran families, and performed molecular dating analyses of the inferred nodes. We assembled a molecular supermatrix containing 14 genes (7765 bp), most of which have not been previously used in supra-familial carnivoran phylogenetics, for 50 different genera representing all carnivoran families. Analysis of this data set led to consistent and robust resolution of all supra-familial nodes in the carnivoran tree, and allowed the construction of a molecular timescale for the evolution of this mammalian order.
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