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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates

Katrin Nyakatura1 and Olaf RP Bininda-Emonds2*

Author affiliations

1 Institute for Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Erbertstrasse 1, 07743 Jena, Germany

2 AG Systematics and Evolutionary Biology, IBU-Faculty V, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Carl von Ossietzky Strasse 9-11, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Biology 2012, 10:12  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-10-12

Published: 27 February 2012



Although it has proven to be an important foundation for investigations of carnivoran ecology, biology and evolution, the complete species-level supertree for Carnivora of Bininda-Emonds et al. is showing its age. Additional, largely molecular sequence data are now available for many species and the advancement of computer technology means that many of the limitations of the original analysis can now be avoided. We therefore sought to provide an updated estimate of the phylogenetic relationships within all extant Carnivora, again using supertree analysis to be able to analyze as much of the global phylogenetic database for the group as possible.


In total, 188 source trees were combined, representing 114 trees from the literature together with 74 newly constructed gene trees derived from nearly 45,000 bp of sequence data from GenBank. The greater availability of sequence data means that the new supertree is almost completely resolved and also better reflects current phylogenetic opinion (for example, supporting a monophyletic Mephitidae, Eupleridae and Prionodontidae; placing Nandinia binotata as sister to the remaining Feliformia). Following an initial rapid radiation, diversification rate analyses indicate a downturn in the net speciation rate within the past three million years as well as a possible increase some 18.0 million years ago; numerous diversification rate shifts within the order were also identified.


Together, the two carnivore supertrees remain the only complete phylogenetic estimates for all extant species and the new supertree, like the old one, will form a key tool in helping us to further understand the biology of this charismatic group of carnivores.

Carnivora; conservation biology; divergence times; diversification; macroevolution; phylogenetic supertrees; supermatrix; timetree