Amphicticeps shackelfordi and Amphicynodon teilhardi are two small carnivorans from the early Oligocene Hsanda Gol Formation of central Mongolia, and as basal arctoids (infraorder Arctoidea) in Asia, feature unique combinations of morphologies that offer insights into early diversification and zoogeography of the arctoids. Lack of adequate study of Amphicticeps and incomplete knowledge about Amphicynodon, however, prevented them from being figured in the discussions of arctoid relationships. New associated dental and cranial materials collected during recent expeditions in the 1990s substantially enrich our knowledge of the two genera and their stratigraphic positions, and serve as an impetus for a study of their phylogenetic relationships in the broad perspective of basal Arctoidea.
Hsanda Gol arctoids are represented by six small- to medium-sized species: Amphicticeps shackelfordi Matthew and Granger 1924, A. dorog, n.sp., A. makhchinus, n.sp., Amphicynodon teilhardi Matthew and Granger 1924,? Cephalogale sp., and Pyctis inamatus Babbitt, 1999. The three species of Amphicticeps apparently form an endemic clade confined to central Asia, whose zoogeographic origin is currently unknown. Amphicynodon has a much higher diversity in Europe than in Asia, and phylogenetically the Asian A. teilhardi seems to be nested within the European congeneric species, indicating an eastward dispersal for this group, linking the European “Grande Coupure” and the Asian “Mongolian Reconstruction” events.
To avoid excessive homoplasies in crown groups, we attempted a phylogenetic reconstruction based mostly on stem arctoids. Twenty genera of primitive arctoids occupying basal positions of nearly all major clades are selected for the analysis. The resulting tree, based on 39 characters, approximates the initial divergence of the arctoids. The traditionally dichotomous Arctoidea, formed by sister clades Ursida and Mustelida, is recovered in our analysis. Mustelida is also largely dichotomous with mustelid-like forms on one side and procyonid-like forms on the other. Despite its rather hypercarnivorous dentition, Amphicticeps is found on the Ursida side of the arctoids, although support for such a topology is relatively weak. Amphicynodon is a stem taxon of the Ursida and is a sister to an ursid–pinniped clade.