, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 151-176
Date: 13 Apr 2010

The Phylogenetic Relationships of Eucynodontia (Amniota: Synapsida)

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Abstract

The phylogeny of Eucynodontia is an important topic in vertebrate paleontology and is the foundation for understanding the origin of mammals. However, consensus on the phylogeny of Eucynodontia remains elusive. To clarify their interrelationships, a cladistic analysis, based on 145 characters and 31 species, and intergrating most prior works, was performed. The monophyly of Eucynodontia is confirmed, although the results slightly differ from those of previous analyses with respect to the composition of both Cynognathia and Probainognathia. This is also the first numerical cladistic analysis to recover a monophyletic Traversodontidae. Brasilodon is the plesiomorphic sister taxon of Mammalia, although it is younger than the oldest mammals and is specialized in some characters. A monophyletic Prozostrodontia, including tritheledontids, tritylodontids, and mammals, is well supported by many characters. Pruning highly incomplete taxa generally has little effect on the inferred pattern of relationships among the more complete taxa, although exceptions sometimes occur when basal fragmentary taxa are removed. Taxon sampling of the current data matrix shows that taxon sampling was poor in some previous studies, implying that their results are not reliable. Two major unresolved questions in cynodont phylogenetics are whether tritylodontids are more closely related to mammals or to traversodontids, and whether tritylodontids or tritheledontids are closer to mammals. Analyses of possible synapomorphies support a relatively close relationship between mammals and tritylodontids, to the exclusion of traversodontids, but do not clearly indicate whether or not tritheledontids are closer to mammals than are tritylodontids.