Sorting Cats with Fats

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Science  09 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5510, pp. 1861
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5510.1861a

Phylogenetic relationships among organisms routinely are assessed using morphological characters and, increasingly, DNA sequence data. Where these two techniques produce similar phylogenetic trees, the systematist can be confident that the result is robust; however, consensus is not always achieved. For example, molecular and morphological data have failed to produce agreement about relationships within the cat family (Felidae).

Bininda-Emonds et al. derive the basis for a new cat phylogeny using another set of data—the chemical cues secreted from the felid anal scent glands, by which the cats recognize their own species. Comparative analysis of the lipid components of this chemical cocktail from 16 felid species produced strikingly consistent results, indicating a strong phylogenetic signal from these compounds. Relationships between many cat species can now be established with more confidence, allowing systematists to focus more closely on the remaining problem areas—especially the phylogenetic positions of the puma and the cheetah. — AMS

Biol. J. Linn. Soc.72, 1 (2001).

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