, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 77-86

Are Guinea Pigs Rodents? The Importance of Adequate Models in Molecular Phylogenetics

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The monophyly of Rodentia has repeatedly been challenged based on several studies of molecular sequence data. Most recently, D'Erchia et al. (1996) analyzed complete mtDNA sequences of 16 mammals and concluded that rodents are not monophyletic. We have reanalyzed these data using maximum-likelihood methods. We use two methods to test for significance of differences among alternative topologies and show that (1) models that incorporate variation in evolutionary rates across sites fit the data dramatically better than models used in the original analyses, (2) the mtDNA data fail to refute rodent monophyly, and (3) the original interpretation of strong support for nonmonophyly results from systematic error associated with an oversimplified model of sequence evolution. These analyses illustrate the importance of incorporating recent theoretical advances into molecular phylogenetic analyses, especially when results of these analyses conflict with classical hypotheses of relationships.