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Article
Nature 317, 140 - 144 (12 September 1985); doi:10.1038/317140a0

A molecular solution to the riddle of the giant panda's phylogeny

Stephen J. O'Brien*, William G. Nash*, David E. Wildt*, Mitchell E. Bush & Raoul E. Benveniste*

*Laboratory of Viral Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, Maryland 21701, USA
Department of Animal Health, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20008, USA

Although it is generally agreed that the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a member of the order Carn­vora, there has long been disagreement over whether it should be classified with bears, raccoons or as a single member of its own family. Four independent molecular and genetic measures lead to a consensus phylogeny for the giant and lesser pandas. The lesser panda diverged from New World procyonids at approximately the same time as their departure from ursids, while ancestors of the giant panda split from the ursid lineage much later, just before the radiation which led to modern bears. The giant panda's divergence was accompanied by a chromosomal reorganization which can be partially reconstructed from the ursid karyotype, but not from that of procyonids or the lesser panda. The apparently dramatic, but actually limited, distinctions between the giant panda and the bears in chromosomal and anatomical morphology provide a graphic mammalian example of the discordance of molecular and morphological (and chromosomal) evolutionary change.

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