On the phylogeny of Mustelidae subfamilies: analysis of seventeen nuclear non-coding loci and mitochondrial complete genomes
Phylogenetic relationships among the ferret-badger Melogale moschata, the skunk Mephitis mephitis, and 21 other arctoid carnivorans, representing Mustelidae (Mustelinae: Mustela, Martes, Gulo; Lutrinae: Enhydra; Melinae: Meles), Procyonidae (Procyon), and Ursidae (Ursus, Melursus), were evaluated through maximum-parsimony phylogenetic analysis of concatenated partial nucleotide sequences of the nuclear recombination-activating gene 1 (RAG1) and gene encoding interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP). The analysis strongly supports Melogale as more closely related to a musteline-lutrine clade (containing Mustela and Enhydra) than to Meles or another musteline clade containing Martes and Gulo (causing Melinae and Mustelinae, as traditionally circumscribed, to be nonmonophyletic). This, together with known morphological and karyological evidence for nonmeline affinities of Melogale, justify the exclusion of the ferret-badgers from the monophyletic Melinae. Therefore, we recommend that Melogale be classified in a distinct mustelid subfamily, the monotypic Helictidinae. Our analysis also strongly supports an outgroup position of the skunks to a clade containing Procyonidae and the nonmephitine Mustelidae (causing Mustelidae, as traditionally circumscribed, to be paraphyletic). This position of the skunks agrees with results of most previous genetic studies. However, it is contradicted by known morphological evidence from both living and fossil taxa, as well as genetic evidence from protein electrophoresis. These consistently support the traditional placement of the skunks within the monophyletic Mustelidae (recently in a close relationship to Lutrinae). Therefore, we consider the recent elevation of the skunks to the level of family as premature, and recommend that this clade be left at the subfamily level (Mephitinae) within the family Mustelidae, pending further evidence.