A phylogeny and timescale for marsupial evolution based on sequences for five nuclear genes

Robert W. Meredith, Michael Westerman, Judd A. Case, Mark S. Springer

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113 Scopus citations


Even though marsupials are taxonomically less diverse than placentals, they exhibit comparable morphological and ecological diversity. However, much of their fossil record is thought to be missing, particularly for the Australasian groups. The more than 330 living species of marsupials are grouped into three American (Didelphimorphia, Microbiotheria, and Paucituberculata) and four Australasian (Dasyuromorphia, Diprotodontia, Notoryctemorphia, and Peramelemorphia) orders. Interordinal relationships have been investigated using a wide range of methods that have often yielded contradictory results. Much of the controversy has focused on the placement of Dromiciops gliroides (Microbiotheria). Studies either support a sister-taxon relationship to a monophyletic Australasian clade or a nested position within the Australasian radiation. Familial relationships within the Diprotodontia have also proved difficult to resolve. Here, we examine higher-level marsupial relationships using a nuclear multigene molecular data set representing all living orders. Protein-coding portions of ApoB, BRCA1, IRBP, Rag1, and vWF were analyzed using maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian methods. Two different Bayesian relaxed molecular clock methods were employed to construct a timescale for marsupial evolution and estimate the unrepresented basal branch length (UBBL). Maximum likelihood and Bayesian results suggest that the root of the marsupial tree is between Didelphimorphia and all other marsupials. All methods provide strong support for the monophyly of Australidelphia. Within Australidelphia, Dromiciops is the sister-taxon to a monophyletic Australasian clade. Within the Australasian clade, Diprotodontia is the sister taxon to a Notoryctemorphia + Dasyuromorphia + Peramelemorphia clade. Within the Diprotodontia, Vombatiformes (wombat + koala) is the sister taxon to a paraphyletic possum group (Phalangeriformes) with kangaroos nested inside. Molecular dating analyses suggest Late Cretaceous/Paleocene dates for all interordinal divergences. All intraordinal divergences were placed in the mid to late Cenozoic except for the deepest splits within the Diprotodontia. Our UBBL estimates of the marsupial fossil record indicate that the South American record is approximately as complete as the Australasian record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Mammalian Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Ameridelphia
  • Australidelphia
  • Fossil record
  • Marsupialia
  • Molecular divergence dates
  • Phylogeny
  • Unrepresented basal branch length


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