Molecular phylogenetic studies of the extant Pantherinae have resulted in a variety of different hypotheses of relationships. This study presents the results of a cladistic study encompassing 45 osteological and dental characters in the skull and mandible, as well as 13 soft-tissue and behavioural characters. Analyzing extant pantherines with osteological data only resulted in two equally parsimonious trees, which differed only with respects to the jaguar, a taxon which shows morphological affinity to the tiger as well as the lion + leopard. Addition of soft-tissue characters resolved this ambiguity, and led to markedly improved bootstrap values. The inclusion of fossil taxa did not have an impact on topology, but was important for a correct understanding of character evolution, due to the fossils having a combination of characters unlike those of any extant taxon. The clouded leopard is the most basal pantherine, followed by the snow leopard. The large pantherines are a well supported group, to which the snow leopard does not belong, contrary to some molecular studies. Panthera palaeosinensis is no tiger, but may be close to the stem group from which the tiger evolved. P. atrox and P. spelaea are not on the lion lineage, as traditionally assumed, but are successive outgroups to the lion + leopard, although the position of P. spelaea is tentative, but is supported by other lines of evidence such as brain anatomy.
© The Willi Hennig Society 2008.