A genomic exploration of the early evolution of extant cats and their sabre-toothed relatives
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonOpen Research Europe. 2021, 2021 (1:25), . 10.12688/openreseurope.13104.2
Background: The evolutionary relationships of Felidae during their Early–Middle Miocene radiation is contentious. Although the early common ancestors have been subsumed under the grade-group Pseudaelurus, this group is thought to be paraphyletic, including the early ancestors of both modern cats and extinct sabretooths. Methods: Here, we sequenced a draft nuclear genome of Smilodon populator, dated to 13,182 ± 90 cal BP, making this the oldest palaeogenome from South America to date, a region known to be problematic for ancient DNA preservation. We analysed this genome, together with genomes from other extinct and extant cats to investigate their phylogenetic relationships. Results: We confirm a deep divergence (~20.65 Ma) within sabre-toothed cats. Through the analysis of both simulated and empirical data, we show a lack of gene flow between Smilodon and contemporary Felidae. Conclusions: Given that some species traditionally assigned to Pseudaelurus originated in the Early Miocene ~20 Ma, this indicates that some species of Pseudaelurus may be younger than the lineages they purportedly gave rise to, further supporting the hypothesis that Pseudaelurus was paraphyletic.