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The monophyly of the placental mammal clade Afrotheria--whose living representatives are the Aardvark (order Tubulidentata), elephant-shrews or sengis (order Macroscelidea), golden moles (family Chrysochloridae), tenrecs (family Tenrecidae), sea cows (order Sirenia), hyraxes (order Hyracoidea), and elephants (order Proboscidea)--is now strongly supported by diverse types of data.

Two of the groups now recognized to be part of Afrotheria were previously included in the order "Insectivora". In the mid-1990s, however, molecular phylogenetic analyses (Springer et al. 1997; Stanhope et al. 1998) indicated that the traditional mammalian order Insectivora--consisting of the families Soricidae (shrews), Tenrecidae (tenrecs), Solenodontidae (solenodons), Talpidae (moles), Erinaceidae (hedgehogs and gymnures), and Chrysochloridae (golden moles)--is not actually monophyletic. Rather, the tenrecs and golden moles (both of which are endemic to Africa and together form a clade often referred to as "Afrosoricida") are part of the Afrotheria. See Seiffer (2007) and Kuntner et al. (2011) for a review of the molecular phylogenetic support for Afrotheria and insights about relationships within this clade. Asher et al. (2009) discuss Afrotheria in the broader context of the now well established higher level phylogeny of mammals.

Morphological data have not supported the monophyly as clearly as have molecular data (see Tabuce et al. 2008 for discussion), although the clade known as Paenungulata (sea cows, hyraxes, and elephants) was named in 1945, long before the era of molecular phylogenetics, by the American paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson. Recent paleontological/morphological studies concur with molecular ones in grouping the paenungulates, aardvarks, and sengis.


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© Leo Shapiro

Supplier: Leo Shapiro

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