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Mammals from ‘down under’: a multi-gene species-level phylogeny of marsupial mammals (Mammalia, Metatheria)

Laura J. May-Collado, C. William Kilpatrick and Ingi Agnarsson

Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA


Marsupials or metatherians are a group of mammals that are distinct in giving birth to young at early stages of development and in having a prolonged investment in lactation. The group consists of nearly 350 extant species, including kangaroos, koala, possums, and their relatives. Marsupials are an old lineage thought to have diverged from early therian mammals some 160 million years ago in the Jurassic, and have a remarkable evolutionary and biogeographical history, with extant species restricted to the Americas, mostly South America, and to Australasia. Although the group has been the subject of decades of phylogenetic research, the marsupial tree of life remains controversial, with most studies focusing on only a fraction of the species diversity within the infraclass. Here we present the first Methaterian species-level phylogeny to include 80% of the extant marsupial species and five nuclear and five mitochondrial markers obtained from Genbank and a recently published retroposon matrix. Our primary goal is to provide a summary phylogeny that will serve as a tool for comparative research. We evaluate the extent to which the phylogeny recovers current phylogenetic knowledge based on the recovery of “benchmark clades” from prior studies—unambiguously supported key clades and undisputed traditional taxonomic groups. The Bayesian phylogenetic analyses recovered nearly all benchmark clades but failed to find support for the suborder Phalagiformes. The most significant difference with previous published topologies is the support for Australidelphia as a group containing Microbiotheriidae, nested within American marsupials. However, a likelihood ratio test shows that alternative topologies with monophyletic Australidelphia and Ameridelphia are not significantly different than the preferred tree. Although further data are needed to solidify understanding of Methateriaphylogeny, the new phylogenetic hypothesis provided here offers a well resolved and detailed tool for comparative analyses, covering the majority of the known species richness of the group.


 Australidelphia, Ameridelphia, Microbiotheria, Dasyuromorphia, Didelphimorphia, Diprotodontia, Peramelemorphia, Notoryctemorphia, Paucituberculata

  • All
  • 2013
  • Biogeography
  • Biology
  • Chlamydia
  • Diet
  • Disease
  • Ecology
  • Ellis
  • Eucalyptus
  • Genetics
  • Habitat
  • Infection
  • Interventions
  • Koala
  • Lunney
  • Threats
  • Timms
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