Seeing the Wood through the Trees: The Current State of Higher Systematics in the Strepsirhini

In: Folia Primatologica
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Strepsirhines comprise 10 living or recently extinct families, ≥50% of extant primate families. Their phylogenetic relationships have been intensively studied, but common topologies have only recently emerged; e.g. all recent reconstructions link the Lepilemuridae and Cheirogaleidae. The position of the indriids, however, remains uncertain, and molecular studies have placed them as the sister to every clade except Daubentonia, the preferred sister group of morphologists. The node subtending Afro-Asian lorisids has been similarly elusive. We probed these phylogenetic inconsistencies using a test data set including 20 strepsirhine taxa and 2 outgroups represented by 3,543 mtDNA base pairs, and 43 selected morphological characters, subjecting the data to maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference analyses, and reconstructing topology and node ages jointly from the molecular data using relaxed molecular clock analyses. Our permutations yielded compatible but not identical evolutionary histories, and currently popular techniques seem unable to deal adequately with morphological data. We investigated the influence of morphological characters on tree topologies, and examined the effect of taxon sampling in two experiments: (1) we removed the molecular data only for 5 endangered Malagasy taxa to simulate ‘extinction leaving a fossil record'; (2) we removed both the sequence and morphological data for these taxa. Topologies were affected more by the inclusion of morphological data only, indicating that palaeontological studies that involve inserting a partial morphological data set into a combined data matrix of extant species should be interpreted with caution. The gap of approximately 10 million years between the daubentoniid divergence and those of the other Malagasy families deserves more study. The apparently contemporaneous divergence of African and non-daubentoniid Malagasy families 40-30 million years ago may be related to regional plume-induced uplift followed by a global period of cooling and drying.

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