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The red panda, Ailurus fulgens, is a peculiar recent carnivoran whose systematic relationships have been disputed since its first description in 1825 (Figure 4.1). While occurring with a single species today, Ailuridae was represented by several genera in the past. Flynn and Nedbal (1998) were the first to place Ailurus in its own family based on molecular evidence. While subsequent analyses of molecular data have confirmed this, paleontological findings of the last 10 years shed much more light on the natural history of Ailuridae and the morphology of its members. Before 1997, Ailuridae consisted of 5 genera with about 16 species. Only two genera belonged to Ailurinae (Ailurus and Parailurus). Today, the family contains 9 genera (5 of which are considered to be ailurines) with about 26 species. It now is agreed that the earliest ailurid is Amphictis, the earliest species of which are known from the Late Oligocene (MP 28, about 25 Mya) of Europe. Even though Ailurus today is restricted to Southeast Asia, it is apparent that ailurids were once present in all Northern continents and were most diverse in Europe throughout most of their history.
In this chapter, we examine the recent and fossil evidence supporting the assignment of Ailurus fulgens and its ancestors (including Amphictis) to a distinct family, Ailuridae. We find such an assignment fully justified and corroborated by morphological data. We review all molecular and morphological studies in which Ailurus has been included. While new molecular studies continue to support a family Ailuridae, a review of the morphology of A. fulgens led to the identification of a number of characters which could be traced within the fossil relatives of Ailurus. This survey led to the development of emended diagnoses of all included genera. We also include a list of all ailurid species and resolve some outstanding issues concerning the taxonomy or systematic relationships of several taxa. Finally, we briefly recapitulate the natural history of Ailuridae. We follow Smith and Dodson (2003) for anatomical notation and orientation of dentitions.
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