Molecular and Morphological Phylogenies of Ruminantia and the Alternative Position of the Moschidae

The ruminants constitute the largest group of ungulates, with >190 species, and its distribution is widespread throughout all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Six families are traditionally recognized within the suborder Ruminantia: Antilocapridae (pronghorns), Bovidae (cattle, sheep, and antelopes), Cervidae (deer), Giraffidae (giraffes and okapis), Moschidae (musk deer), and Tragulidae (chevrotains). The interrelationships of the families have been an area of controversy among morphology, palaeontology, and molecular studies, and almost all possible evolutionary scenarios have been proposed in the literature. We analyzed a large DNA data set (5,322 nucleotides) for 23 species including both mitochondrial (cytochrome b, 12S ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and 16S rRNA) and nuclear (·-casein, cytochrome P-450, lactoferrin, and ®-lactalbumin) markers. Our results show that the family Tragulidae occupies a basal position with respect to all other ruminant families, confirming the traditional view that separates Tragulina and Pecora. Within the pecorans, Antilocapridae and Giraffidae emerge first, and the families Bovidae, Moschidae, and Cervidae are allied, with the unexpected placement of Moschus close to bovids rather than to cervids. We used these molecular results to assess the homoplastic evolution of morphological characters within the Ruminantia. A Bayesian relaxed molecular clock approach based on the continuous autocorrelation of evolutionary rates along branches was applied to estimate the divergence ages between the major clades of ruminants. The evolutionary radiation of Pecora occurred at the Early/Late Oligocene transition, and Pecoran families diversified and dispersed rapidly during the Early and Middle Miocene. We propose a biogeographic scenario to explain the extraordinary expansion of this group during the Cenozoic era.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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