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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Whale phylogeny and rapid radiation events revealed using novel retroposed elements and their flanking sequences

Zhuo Chen, Shixia Xu, Kaiya Zhou and Guang Yang*

Author affiliations

Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Biodiversity and Biotechnology, College of Life Sciences, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210046, China

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:314  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-314

Published: 27 October 2011

Abstract

Background

A diversity of hypotheses have been proposed based on both morphological and molecular data to reveal phylogenetic relationships within the order Cetacea (dolphins, porpoises, and whales), and great progress has been made in the past two decades. However, there is still some controversy concerning relationships among certain cetacean taxa such as river dolphins and delphinoid species, which needs to be further addressed with more markers in an effort to address unresolved portions of the phylogeny.

Results

An analysis of additional SINE insertions and SINE-flanking sequences supported the monophyly of the order Cetacea as well as Odontocete, Delphinoidea (Delphinidae + Phocoenidae + Mondontidae), and Delphinidae. A sister relationship between Delphinidae and Phocoenidae + Mondontidae was supported, and members of classical river dolphins and the genera Tursiops and Stenella were found to be paraphyletic. Estimates of divergence times revealed rapid divergences of basal Odontocete lineages in the Oligocene and Early Miocene, and a recent rapid diversification of Delphinidae in the Middle-Late Miocene and Pliocene within a narrow time frame.

Conclusions

Several novel SINEs were found to differentiate Delphinidae from the other two families (Monodontidae and Phocoenidae), whereas the sister grouping of the latter two families with exclusion of Delphinidae was further revealed using the SINE-flanking sequences. Interestingly, some anomalous PCR amplification patterns of SINE insertions were detected, which can be explained as the result of potential ancestral SINE polymorphisms and incomplete lineage sorting. Although a few loci were potentially anomalous, this study demonstrated that the SINE-based approach is a powerful tool in phylogenetic studies. Identifying additional SINE elements that resolve the relationships in the superfamily Delphinoidea and family Delphinidae will be important steps forward in completely resolving cetacean phylogenetic relationships in the future.