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ABSTRACT: Mustelidae, as the largest and most-diverse family of order Carnivora, comprises eight subfamilies. Phylogenetic relationships among these Mustelidae subfamilies remain argumentative subjects in recent years. One of the main reasons is that the mustelids represent a typical example of rapid evolutionary radiation and recent speciation event. Prior investigation has been concentrated on the application of different mitochondrial (mt) sequence and nuclear protein-coding data, herein we employ 17 nuclear non-coding loci (>15 kb), in conjunction with mt complete genome data (>16 kb), to clarify these enigmatic problems.
The combined nuclear intron and mt genome analyses both robustly support that Taxidiinae diverged first, followed by Melinae. Lutrinae and Mustelinae are grouped together in all analyses with strong supports. The position of Helictidinae, however, is enigmatic because the mt genome analysis places it to the clade uniting Lutrinae and Mustelinae, whereas the nuclear intron analysis favors a novel view supporting a closer relationship of Helictidinae to Martinae. This finding emphasizes a need to add more data and include more taxa to resolve this problem. In addition, the molecular dating provides insights into the time scale of the origin and diversification of the Mustelidae subfamilies. Finally, the phylogenetic performances and limits of nuclear introns and mt genes are discussed in the context of Mustelidae phylogeny.
Our study not only brings new perspectives on the previously obscured phylogenetic relationships among Mustelidae subfamilies, but also provides another example demonstrating the effectiveness of nuclear non-coding loci for reconstructing evolutionary histories in a group that has undergone rapid bursts of speciation.
BMC Evolutionary Biology 01/2011; 11:92. · 3.29 Impact Factor