Phylogenetic relationships of the fox-like canids: mitochondrial DNA restriction fragment, site and cytochrome b sequence analyses



The fox-like canids include taxa from the genera Alopex, Otocyon, Fennecus, Urocyon and Vulpes. Previous morphological analysis indicated that species from the latter three genera are very similar and should be included in the same genus whereas Alopex and Otocyon are sufficiently different to be included in separate genera. Using phylogenetic methods, we analyse mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction fragment and restriction site data, and 402 bp of cytochrome b sequence variation in fox-like canids. Our results suggest that Alopex lagopus, the arctic fox, is actually a very close relative of the swift fox, a species in the genus Vulpes. Similarly, the fennec, Fennecus zerda is related to the co-existing desert species, the Blanford's fox, Vulpes cana. The grey fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, and the bat-eared fox, Otocyon megalotis, are not closely related to each other or to any of the sampled fox taxa. Our results indicate that desert adaptations have evolved independently at least twice in the Canidae, and that Pleistocene glaciations and character divergence may be important causes of morphological change in canids.