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Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor


The Carnivora are one of only four orders of terrestrial mammals living in Madagascar today. All four (carnivorans, primates, rodents and lipotyphlan insectivores) are placental mammals with limited means for dispersal, yet they occur on a large island that has been surrounded by a formidable oceanic barrier for at least 88 million years1,2, predating the age of origin for any of these groups3,4. Even so, as many as four colonizations of Madagascar have been proposed for the Carnivora alone5. The mystery of the island's mammalian origins is confounded by its poor Tertiary fossil record, which leaves us with no direct means for estimating dates of initial diversification. Here we use a multi-gene phylogenetic analysis to show that Malagasy carnivorans are monophyletic and thus the product of a single colonization of Madagascar by an African ancestor. Furthermore, a bayesian analysis6 of divergence ages for Malagasy carnivorans and lemuriforms indicates that their respective colonizations were temporally separated by tens of millions of years. We therefore conclude that a single event, such as vicariance or common dispersal, cannot explain the presence of both groups in Madagascar.

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Figure 1: Maximum likelihood phylogeny of Malagasy Carnivora and selected carnivoran outgroups.
Figure 2: Proposed biogeographical model of carnivoran dispersal from Africa.
Figure 3: Comparative age analysis of Lemuriformes and Malagasy Carnivora.
Figure 4: Comparison of bayesian age estimates for Malagasy carnivorans (above) and lemuriforms (below) relative to proposed landbridge temporal window8.


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We thank the authorities in Madagascar and the WWF for support of fieldwork, and L. Razafimanantsoa for access to tissues. We thank Z. Yang and M. Springer for discussion of methods, D. Krause for comments, and J. Thorne for guidance with his programs. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, Washington, and the Field Museum's Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics. This is a Duke University Primate Center publication.

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Correspondence to Anne D. Yoder.

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Yoder, A., Burns, M., Zehr, S. et al. Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor. Nature 421, 734–737 (2003).

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