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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2014

1 - Introduction to Carnivora


Why Carnivora?

The placental mammal order Carnivora encompasses many charismatic taxa, from dogs and cats to bears, otters, hyaenas, and seals. Perhaps more than any other mammalian clade, carnivorans are a source of fascination for humans, partially due to our intimate observation of the domesticated species that reside in many of our own homes. Beyond our quirky cats and loyal dogs, however, carnivorans have long and often been the subject of a variety of studies and documentaries of natural history concerning behaviour, ecology, and evolution, and for many good reasons. With over 260 living species, Carnivora is one of the most species-rich clades of mammals. It should be noted that the term ‘carnivoran’ is a phylogenetic classification, in contrast to ‘carnivore’, an ecological classification describing any meat-eater.

Evolutionarily, Carnivora is divided into two major branches (Flynn et al., this volume, Chapter 2, Figure 2.2): Feliformia (including cats, linsangs, civets, mongooses, fossas, falanoucs, and hyaenas; Figure 1.1) and Caniformia (encompassing dogs, bears, seals, sea lions, walruses, the red panda, raccoons, skunks, weasels, badgers, otters, and wolverines; Figure 1.2) (Wozencraft, 2005; Myers et al., 2008). As that list suggests, this taxonomic diversity is well matched by their ecological breadth. While the name Carnivora usually conjures up images of tigers and wolves, carnivorans range in diet from pure carnivores to species that specialise on fruit, leaves, and insects, as well as the full spectrum of mixed diets; carnivorans are represented by omnivorous bears, frugivorous raccoons, and even insectivorous hyaenas. Even better for students of evolution, many carnivoran families have given rise to multiple dif ferent ecomorphs.

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