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Mesozoic origin for West Indian insectivores


The highly endangered solenodons, endemic to Cuba (Solenodon cubanus) and Hispaniola (S. paradoxus), comprise the only two surviving species of West Indian insectivores1,2. Combined gene sequences (13.9 kilobases) from S. paradoxus established that solenodons diverged from other eulipotyphlan insectivores 76 million years ago in the Cretaceous period, which is consistent with vicariance, though also compatible with dispersal. A sequence of 1.6 kilobases of mitochondrial DNA from S. cubanus indicated a deep divergence of 25 million years versus the congeneric S. paradoxus, which is consistent with vicariant origins as tectonic forces separated Cuba and Hispaniola3,4. Efforts to prevent extinction of the two surviving solenodon species would conserve an entire lineage as old or older than many mammalian orders.

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Figure 1: Phylogeny and molecular timescale for solenodons and other eulipotyphlan insectivores.


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This paper is dedicated to the memory of the Cuban naturalist Felipe Poey (1799–1891); see Supplementary Table 1 for details of the samples he collected in the 1850s. We thank C. Bell, A. Brandt, J. Brucksch, D. Castillo, N. Crumpler, M. Malasky, J. Minchoff, H. Otero, K. Scott, J. Tabler & E. Teeling. For samples, we thank the Parque Zoologico Nacional (ZOODOM) of the Dominican Republic; J. Chupasko at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology; and P. Giere at the Museum für Naturkunde, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. This publication has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Alfred L. Roca, Stephen J. O'Brien or William J. Murphy.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Includes Supplementary Table 1: Samples of Solenodon cubanus; Supplementary Table 2: Primers for Solenodon cubanus; Supplementary Figure 1: Solenodon paradoxus relationship to other mammals; Supplementary Table 3: Phylogenetic support for Solenodon position; Supplementary Figure 2: Molecular divergence date estimates; Supplementary Figure 3: Relationship of Solenodon to fossil insectivores; Supplementary Figure 4: Divergence estimates for Cricosaura typical; Supplementary References. (PDF 484 kb)

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Roca, A., Kahila Bar-Gal, G., Eizirik, E. et al. Mesozoic origin for West Indian insectivores. Nature 429, 649–651 (2004).

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