Brace S, Thomas JA, Dalén L, Burger J, MacPhee RD, Barnes I, Turvey ST
Mol. Biol. Evol. 33 (12) 3095-3103 [2016-12-00; online 2016-09-15]
The mammalian evolutionary tree has lost several major clades through recent human-caused extinctions. This process of historical biodiversity loss has particularly affected tropical island regions such as the Caribbean, an area of great evolutionary diversification but poor molecular preservation. The most enigmatic of the recently extinct endemic Caribbean mammals are the Nesophontidae, a family of morphologically plesiomorphic lipotyphlan insectivores with no consensus on their evolutionary affinities, and which constitute the only major recent mammal clade to lack any molecular information on their phylogenetic placement. Here, we use a palaeogenomic approach to place Nesophontidae within the phylogeny of recent Lipotyphla. We recovered the near-complete mitochondrial genome and sequences for 17 nuclear genes from a ∼750-year-old Hispaniolan Nesophontes specimen, and identify a divergence from their closest living relatives, the Solenodontidae, more than 40 million years ago. Nesophontidae is thus an older distinct lineage than many extant mammalian orders, highlighting not only the role of island systems as "museums" of diversity that preserve ancient lineages, but also the major human-caused loss of evolutionary history.