Felinae and thus part of the from Patagonia and a M. trumani
Correspondence modern cat radiation . specimen from Wyoming. In total,
The relationships of the 1302 bp of cytochrome b (cytb),
American cheetahlike cat, NADH5, ATP8, as well as 12S and
Evolution of the Miracinonyx trumani, are similarly 16S ribosomal RNA genes were
extinct Sabre- confused as it had previously
been mistaken for an ancestral or
recovered (Supplemental Data).
We also obtained a short fragment
tooths and the modern puma (e.g. Puma trumani). of cytb from a Yukon scimitar-
It was only recognised as a truly toothed cat (Homotherium serum),
American distinct group after abundant another recent member of the
post-cranial fossil material Machairodontinae.
Cheetahlike cat became available . Phylogenetic analyses (Figure 1;
Morphologically, M. trumani Supplemental Data) show that
Ross Barnett1, Ian Barnes2, strongly resembles the modern Smilodon and Homotherium fall
Matthew J. Phillips1, Larry D. African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) outside the extant cats, the
Martin3, C. Richard Harington4, , which has led to uncertainty Felinae. This is in agreement with
Jennifer A. Leonard5,6, and Alan about whether it is more closely their traditional morphological
Cooper7 related to the Old World cheetah placement . The deep genetic
or the New World puma [2,4,6,7]. split between the two sabretooth
The sabretooths (Smilodon and To address these questions, we taxa is also consistent with
Homotherium) and the American used ancient DNA techniques, morphological analyses .
cheetahlike cat (Miracinonyx) were including independent replication, These phylogenetic analyses
the top predators in Late to generate mitochondrial DNA also reveal that M. trumani is the
Pleistocene America, but became sequences from several sister taxon to the puma, rather
extinct about 13 thousand years specimens of Smilodon populator than the African cheetah. Another
ago . As the evolutionary history
of these taxa remains poorly
understood [1,2], we analysed
their phylogenetic relationship to Crocuta crocuta
extant felids. In contrast to
previous molecular studies , our
results show that the sabretooths Smilodon
diverge early and are not closely
related to any living cats. This
supports their morphological Leopardus pardalis
placement in a separate subfamily
(Machairodontinae) . Despite its
remarkable morphological 92/96/98 Felis silvestris catus
similarity to the African cheetah 91/100/100
(Acinonyx jubatus), Miracinonyx
appears to have evolved from a
puma-like ancestor, presumably in
response to similar ecological Herpailurus
pressures [4,5]. 74/100/100 yagouaroundi
Even though the evolutionary
relationships within the cat family 91/83/92 58/81/80 Miracinonyx
(Felidae) have been analysed
using morphological, molecular 100/100/100
and palaeontological data , Puma concolor
many proposed relationships
remain contentious, including
those of recently extinct species. Panthera leo
For example, the sabretooth
cats are known from plentiful Late
Pleistocene fossil material and Current Biology
have been placed, based on
morphological criteria, outside of Figure 1. Consensus tree for members of the Carnivora analysed in this paper.
all extant cats (subfamily Felinae) Maximum parsimony bootstrap replicates and Bayesian posterior values are given for
as a separate subfamily, the nodes. The numbers at the nodes show: maximum parsimony bootstrap support (1000
Machairodontinae . In contrast, replicates), the Bayesian GTR+l+G posterior probabilities (5 million generations, burnin
at 1 million) and the Bayesian GTR+cov+G posterior probabilities (5 million generations,
an early ancient DNA study
burnin at 2.5 million). The values given in red represent results after omission of the
tentatively suggested that jaguarundi from analysis (Supplemental Data). The maximum likelihood position of
Smilodon was a member of the Homotherium serum is based on a short dataset (Supplemental Data). Figures of
Smilodon and Miracinonyx courtesy of M. Anton.
Current Biology Vol 15 No 15
endemic American cat, the (AC), BBSRC (RB), and Wellcome (IB Evolutionary Biology, University of
jaguarundi, groups with and AC). We also thank Mauricio Anton California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606,
for use of his artwork. USA. 6Department of Evolutionary
Miracinonyx and the puma. This
Biology, Uppsala University,
result corroborates the first Norbyvagen 18D, 752 36 Uppsala,
morphological studies using Supplemental data Sweden. 7Darling Building (DP 418),
complete specimens of Supplemental data including School of Earth and Environmental
Miracinonyx [6,7], but also raises Experimental Procedures are available Sciences, University of Adelaide, SA
questions about the anatomical at http://www.current- 5005, Australia.
biology.com/cgi/content/full/15/15/Rxxx/ E-mail: email@example.com;
structures used to classify
Miracinonyx as a cheetah . Re-
analysis of these characters [2,7]
has emphasised that many of References
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story from the hoofed mammals.
We thank P.J.H. van Bree (Zoological
Museum Amsterdam) for access to Palaeoecol. 177, 183–198.
Smilodon samples, Lars Werdelin
(Swedish Museum of Natural History) 1Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules
for helpful information on specimens, Centre, Department of Zoology,
Andrew Kitchener (National Museum of University of Oxford, South Parks Road,
Scotland) for modern felid samples and Oxford OX1 3PS, UK. 2The Centre for
Trish McLenachan and David Penny Genetic Anthropology, Department of
(Massey University) for access to Biology, Darwin Building, University
College London, Gower Street, London
mongoose data. Work at UCLA on
WC1E 6BT, UK. 3Department of Ecology
Homotherium was supported by an NSF
and Evolutionary Biology, University of
grant to Robert Wayne and Blaire Van Kansas, Lawrence, KS66045, Kansas,
Valkenburgh (OPP-9617068). This USA. 4Canadian Museum of Nature
research was supported by NSF (AC, (Paleobiology), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
JAL), NERC (RB and AC), Leverhulme K1P 6P4. 5Department of Ecology and