Mammals from ‘down under’: a multi-gene species-level phylogeny of marsupial mammals (Mammalia, Metatheria)
Alternative hypotheses in higher-level marsupial systematics have different implications for marsupial origins, character evolution, and biogeography. Resolving the position of the South American monito del monte (Order Microbiotheria) is of particular importance in that alternate hypotheses posit sister-group relationships between microbiotheres and taxa with disparate temporal and geographic distributions: pediomyids; didelphids; dasyuromorphians; diprotodontians; all other australidelphians; and all other marsupials. Among Australasian marsupials, the placement of bandicoots is critical; competing views associate bandicoots with particular Australasian taxa (diprotodontians, dasyuromorphians) or outside of a clade that includes all other Australasian forms and microbiotheres. Affinities of the marsupial mole are also unclear. The mole is placed in its own order (Notoryctemorphia) and sister-group relationships have been postulated between it and each of the other Australasian orders. We investigated relationships among marsupial orders by using a data set that included mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Phylogenetic analyses provide support for the association of microbiotheres with Australasian marsupials and an association of the marsupial mole with dasyuromorphs. Statistical tests reject the association of diprotodontians and bandicoots together as well as the monophyly of Australasian marsupials. The origin of the paraphyletic Australasian marsupial fauna may be accounted for by (i) multiple entries of australidelphians into Australia or (ii) bidirectional dispersal of australidelphians between Antarctica and Australia.