Mammalian Phylogenetics: A Short Overview of Recent Advances

Reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of the Mammals of Europe book series (HDBME)


This chapter summarizes our present understanding of the phylogenetic relationships of Mammalia, particularly those within Marsupialia and Placentalia. The last 20 or so years have seen the burgeoning of molecular phylogenetics and the transition from phylogenetics to phylogenomics, with new and deeper insights into mammalian relationships. While most of the taxa traditionally classified as “orders” have stood the test of time, the “interordinal” relationships have benefited immensely from the new methodology. This is most obvious for placental mammals where four high-ranking taxa have emerged beyond reasonable doubt: Afrotheria, Xenarthra, Euarchontoglires, and Laurasiatheria. The root of the placental tree, however, is still elusive, with a number of competing hypotheses still being discussed. The most likely topology seems to be a most basal split between Atlantogenata (= Afrotheria + Xenarthra) and Boreoeutheria (= Euarchontoglires + Laurasiatheria). While Boreoeutheria is well supported, this is much less the case for Atlantogenata. The position of Scandentia (tree shrews) and Chiroptera (bats) within Euarchontoglires and Laurasiatheria, respectively, is also still uncertain. Another heatedly debated issue is the age of origination and diversification of the placental mammals, particularly with respect to the K-Pg boundary ca. 66 mya. Molecular datings and the fossil record are still at odds with one another, but a reconciliation seems at least feasible.


K-Pg Boundary Marsupialia Molecular Phylogenetics Monotremata Placentalia 



I would like to thank Vera Weisbecker from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, for a constructive review of an earlier version of this chapter and Kriemhild Repp from the Natural History Museum Vienna for drawing the phylogenetic trees.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mammal CollectionNatural History Museum ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of GeneticsUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Klaus Hackländer
    • 1
  • Frank E. Zachos
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology and Biodiversity ResearchUniversity of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)ViennaAustria
  2. 2.Mammal CollectionNatural History Museum ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of GeneticsUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Integrative ZoologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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