Exhaustive sample set among Viverridae reveals the sister-group of felids: the linsangs as a case of extreme morphological convergence within Feliformia

Philippe Gaubert, Géraldine Veron

Abstract

Although molecular studies have helped to clarify the phylogeny of the problematic family Viverridae, a recent phylogenetic investigation based on cytochrome b (cyt b) has excluded the Asiatic linsangs (genus Prionodon) from the family. To assess the phylogenetic position of the Asiatic linsangs within the Feliformia, we analysed an exhaustive taxonomic sample set with cyt b and newly produced transthyretin intron I sequences (TR–I–I). TR–I–I alone and cyt b+TR–I–I combined (maximum–likelihood analysis) highly support the position of Asiatic linsangs as sister–group of the Felidae. The estimation of minimum divergence dates from molecular data suggests a splitting event ca. 33.3 million years (Myr) ago, which lends support to historical assertions that the Asiatic linsangs are ‘living fossils’ that share a plesiomorphic morphotype with the Oligocene feliform Paleoprionodon. The African linsang is estimated to appear more than 20 Myr later and represents the sister–group of the genus Genetta. Our phylogenetic results illustrate numerous morphological convergences of ‘diagnostic’ characters among Feliformia that might be problematic for the identification of fossil taxa. The morphotype reappearance from the Asiatic to the African linsangs suggests that the genome of the Feliformia conserved its potential ability of expression for a peculiar adaptive phenotype throughout evolution, in this case arboreality and hypercarnivory in tropical forest.