Ancient DNA from the North American flat-headed peccary reveals its phylogenetic position and a genetically diverse population prior to extinction

The geographical range of extant peccaries extends from the southwestern United States through Central America and into northern Argentina. However, from the Miocene until the Pleistocene now-extinct peccary species inhabited the entirety of North America. Relationships among the living and extinct species have long been contentious. Similarly, how and when peccaries moved from North to South America is unclear. The North American flat-headed peccary (Platygonus compressus) became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene and is one of the most abundant subfossil taxa found in North America, yet despite this extensive fossil record its phylogenetic position has not been resolved. This study is the first to present DNA data from the flat-headed peccary and full mitochondrial genome sequences of all the extant peccary species. We performed a molecular phylogenetic analysis to determine the relationships among ancient and extant peccary species. Our results suggested that the flat-headed peccary is sister-taxon to a clade comprising the extant peccary species. Divergence date estimates from our molecular dating analyses suggest that if extant peccary diversification occurred in South America then their common ancestor must have dispersed from North America to South America well before the establishment of the Isthmus of Panama. We also investigated the genetic diversity of the flat-headed peccary by performing a preliminary population study on specimens from Sheriden Cave, Ohio. Flat-headed peccaries from Sheriden Cave appear to be genetically diverse and show no signature of population decline prior to extinction. Including additional extinct Pleistocene peccary species in future phylogenetic analyses will further clarify peccary evolution.