The emergence of cetaceans: phylogenetic analysis of male social behaviour supports the Cetartiodactyla clade

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The phylogeny of cetaceans is still unresolved. Two hypotheses prevail for the position of cetaceans among ungulates. The first hypothesis shows that Artiodactyla is monophyletic and is sister taxon to a clade composed of cetaceans and mesonychians. The second one shows that Artiodactyla is paraphyletic and contains Cetacea that is sister taxon of Hippopotamida. These hypotheses are based on fossil records and molecular studies. The behaviour of extant species can provide as much phylogenetic information as other classical parameters. I considered the behaviour observed during male agonistic interactions in placental mammals in order to determine which of these hypotheses was supported by the behaviour of extant species. Headbutting was only observed in ruminants, hippopotamids and cetaceans, supporting the paraphyletic nature of Artiodactyla. Primitive ruminants (tragulids) and two genera of ruminants (Moschus and Oreamnos) were not observed headbutting. These secondary losses were only present in 6.25% of the 48 surveyed ruminant genera. Head-to-head attacks emerged in pigs, which have developed dermal protusions. Yet, these confrontations are not based on mutual blow delivery. The behavioural evidence supports the inclusion of cetaceans in Artiodactyla.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-535
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
Early online date17 Apr 2003
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2003


  • Artiodactyla
  • Cetacea
  • headbutting
  • phylogeny
  • behaviour
  • aggressive-behavior
  • extant taxa
  • group-size
  • whales
  • artiodactyls
  • evolution
  • mammalia
  • position
  • extinct
  • calves

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