Molecular evolution of mitochondrial 12S RNA and cytochrome b sequences in the pantherine lineage of Felidae.
DNA sequence comparisons of two mitochondrial DNA genes were used to infer phylogenetic relationships among 17 Felidae species, notably 15 in the previously described pantherine lineage. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to generate sequences of 358 base pairs of the mitochondrial 12S RNA gene and 289 base pairs of the cytochrome b protein coding gene. DNA sequences were compared within and between 17 felid and five nonfelid carnivore species. Evolutionary trees were constructed using phenetic, cladistic, and maximum likelihood algorithms. The combined results suggested several phylogenetic relationships including (1) the recognition of a recently evolved monophyletic genus Panthera consisting of Panthera leo, P. pardus, P. onca, P. uncia, P. tigris, and Neofelis nebulosa; (2) the recent common ancestry of Acinonyx jubatus, the African cheetah, and Puma concolor, the American puma; and (3) two golden cat species, Profelis temmincki and Profelis aurata, are not sister species, and the latter is strongly associated with Caracal caracal. These data add to the growing database of vertebrate mtDNA sequences and, given the relatively recent divergence among the felids represented here (1-10 Myr), allow 12S and cytochrome b sequence evolution to be addressed over a time scale different from those addressed in most work on vertebrate mtDNA.