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How to contend with paraphyly in the taxonomy of the delphinine cetaceans?


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Molecular phylogenetic analyses conducted over the past 15 yr have consistently had difficulties resolving relationships among the cetacean species in the subfamily Delphininae. In addition, paraphyly of the genera Tursiops and Stenella in these molecular phylogenies has been a recurrent problem since the first appearance of such a phylogeny in 1999, suggesting that these genera do not accurately reflect the evolutionary relationships of the species they contain. Morphological analyses have not resolved the issues. The genera in Delphininae originated in the 19th Century on questionable morphological grounds. The species were nearly all originally described in the genus Delphinus of Linnaeus. Recent molecular phylogenies based on various mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers have suggested a wide range of possible relationships among these taxa, and several authors have suggested synonymizing all the taxa (Lagenodelphis, Stenella, Sousa, and Tursiops) under Delphinus. Until molecular and/or morphological analyses adequately sort out relationships in this very recently radiated group, one possible solution indeed would be to merge all the delphinine genera with Delphinus. Implications of such a move and alternatives are discussed.

Editor's Note: Papers from past Norris Award winners have primarily been a revised or reduced version of the actual presentation given as a plenary talk at the biennial conference. Dr. Perrin requested being allowed to take a topic from his presentation and expand on it to present a set of ideas in the form of an essay that could pass the rigors of the peer-review process. As a result, this Norris Award paper has undergone peer-review and has taken longer than usual for a Norris Award paper to appear in the journal following its presentation at the biennial conference. It also has co-authors, with varying opinions on the issues discussed in the essay, to cover appropriately and more thoroughly those components of the paper that required additional expertise. I believe this approach has produced an excellent, thought-provoking essay and is an approach that should be available to future Norris Award winners if they so choose to take it. Since this essay is meant to elicit dialogue, comments are welcome and will be considered for publication in Letters to the Editor.