Nature 438, 850-853 (8 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature04134; Received 22 April 2005; Accepted 16 August 2005; Published online 4 September 2005

The phylogenetic position of the 'giant deer' Megaloceros giganteus

A. M. Lister1, C. J. Edwards2, D. A. W. Nock1,5, M. Bunce3,5, I. A. van Pijlen1,4, D. G. Bradley2, M. G. Thomas1 & I. Barnes1

  1. Department of Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  2. Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland
  3. Ancient Biomolecules Centre, Department of Zoology, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
  4. Department of Zoology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
  5. †Present addresses: MRC Clinical Trials Unit, 222 Euston Road, London NW1 2DA, UK (D.A.W.N.); Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Ontario L8S 4L9, Canada (M.B.)

Correspondence to: I. Barnes1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to I.B. (Email: I.Barnes@ucl.ac.uk). Sequences are deposited in GenBank under accession numbers AM072730–AM072749. Sequences are deposited in GenBank under accession numbers AM072730-AM072749.

The giant deer, or 'Irish elk', has featured extensively in debates on adaptation, sexual selection, and extinction. Its huge antlers—the largest of any deer species, living or extinct—formed a focus of much past work1, 2, 3, 4. Yet the phylogenetic position of the giant deer has remained an enigma. On the basis of its flattened antlers, the species was previously regarded as closely related to the living fallow deer5, 6, 7. Recent morphological studies8, however, have challenged that view and placed the giant deer closer to the living red deer or wapiti. Here we present a new phylogenetic analysis encompassing morphological and DNA sequence evidence, and find that both sets of data independently support a sister-group relationship of giant and fallow deer. Our results include the successful extraction and sequencing of DNA from this extinct species, and highlight the value of a joint molecular and morphological approach.


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