With its high taxonomic, morphological, and ecological diversity and excellent fossil record, the placental mammal order Carnivora has proven to be a model group for addressing questions of large evolutionary significance. Recent work has resulted in a well-resolved phylogeny of extant taxa, as well as for many extinct clades, allowing for rigorous analysis of a wide range of evolutionary questions. Although the order is named after its meat-eating members, the dietary breadth of living carnivorans (members of the order Carnivora) extends from frugivorous to insectivorous taxa, durophagous taxa, as well as the hypercarnivorous taxa that are usually associated with the group. Carnivoran locomotor diversity is also remarkable among mammals, with fully aquatic, semi-aquatic, arboreal, terrestrial, and fossorial taxa. Recent studies have shown that this diversity extends to their early fossil representatives. Multiple ecological and morphological convergences of carnivorans and distantly related clades, including the extinct creodonts and extant and extinct carnivorous marsupials, also strengthen the utility of carnivorans for comparative ecomorphological and biomechanical studies. This volume focuses not only on the current advances in our understanding of mammalian carnivoran evolution, but especially on how carnivorans are being used as a model clade for testing new methodologies and addressing fundamental issues in palaeontology, which can ultimately be applied to clades with poorer fossil records.
The subtitle of this volume – ‘New Views on Phylogeny, Form, and Function’ – while being pleasantly alliterative, highlights some of the most exciting fields of study in evolutionary biology and palaeontology to which carnivorans have lent themselves. In recent years, mammalian carnivorans have been the focus of extensive phylogenetic analyses, both molecular and morphological, and incorporating both extant and fossil taxa, which have resolved many long-standing issues in carnivoran relationships. Flynn et al. (Chapter 2) provide an overview of the state of overall carnivoran phylogeny, erect a new clade, and demonstrate some of the patterns that can be studied using a phylogenetic framework.