A higher-level MRP supertree of placental mammals

Robin M.D. Beck, Olaf R.P. Bininda-Emonds, Marcel Cardillo, Fu Guo Robert Liu, Andy Purvis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Background: The higher-level phylogeny of placental mammals has long been a phylogenetic Gordian knot, with disagreement about both the precise contents of, and relationships between, the extant orders. A recent MRP supertree that favoured 'outdated' hypotheses (notably, monophyly of both Artiodactyla and Lipotyphla) has been heavily criticised for including low-quality and redundant data. We apply a stringent data selection protocol designed to minimise these problems to a much-expanded data set of morphological, molecular and combined source trees, to produce a supertree that includes every family of extant placental mammals. Results: The supertree is well-resolved and supports both polyphyly of Lipotyphla and paraphyly of Artiodactyla with respect to Cetacea. The existence of four 'superorders' - Afrotheria, Xenarthra, Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires - is also supported. The topology is highly congruent with recent (molecular) phylogenetic analyses of placental mammals, but is considerably more comprehensive, being the first phylogeny to include all 113 extant families without making a priori assumptions of suprafamilial monophyly. Subsidiary analyses reveal that the data selection protocol played a key role in the major changes relative to a previously published higher-level supertree of placentals. Conclusion: The supertree should provide a useful framework for hypothesis testing in phylogenetic comparative biology, and supports the idea that biogeography has played a crucial role in the evolution of placental mammals. Our results demonstrate the importance of minimising poor and redundant data when constructing supertrees.

Original languageEnglish
Article number93
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
StatePublished - 13 Nov 2006


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