|The Cervinae are almost entirely restricted to Eurasia,
in direct contrast to the primarily New World Capreolinae. Indeed, only only
one member of this subfamily, the highly-adaptable red deer or wapiti
(Cervus elaphus) can be found outside of Eurasia, with subspecies
found in both North America and on the coast of north Africa. Cervine deer
are adapted to a wide range of lowland habitats, including forests, swampland,
floodplains, and grasslands. Excluded from higher altitudes by goats and
sheep (Caprinae), only a few members of the Cervinae
are found in high-elevation or mountainous regions.
Southern Asia was the center of evolution for this subfamily, and the Cervinae remain one of the most dominant ungulate groups in Eurasia. Early deer arose in the tropics, and the fossil record demonstrates repeated radiations from tropical climates into more northerly territories during the Pleistocene. Today, the tropics retain the majority of cervine diversity, although several cold-adapted species have become highly successful.
Two tribes are recognized:
These two tribes are remarkably different in gross morphology, displaying two distinct body plans. Muntjacs are often seen as the most primitive of deer, resembling the ancestral stock from which the rest of the Cervinae AND the Capreolinae evolved. However, genetic evidence has displaced this theory; it is now thought that many of the "primitive" characters of muntjacs have been secondarily acquired. Muntjacs are small in size (from less than 10 kg to 40 kg) and have a "creeping" form well-suited for forest life. The antlers of muntjacs are short, but seemingly to compensate for this, the upper canines grow into tusks (similar to the Moschidae and Tragulidae). On the other hand, the Cervini are generally larger in size and have significantly larger antlers. The upper canines, while present in some species, are always small.
The taxonomy of this subfamily has undergone some significant changes in the past few decades. The tribe Muntiacini was formerly considered to be a separate subfamily (the Muntiacinae), but is now included within the Cervinae. Also of note is the description of several new muntjacs (Muntiacus sp.) from southeastern Asia, raising the number of species in this genus from as few as five recognized species (in 1990) to eleven. Unlike many "new" species, which are created by splitting two previously known subspecies into unique species, many of these muntjacs have only recently been discovered by western science. Within the Cervini, the number of species has remained relatively constant, but the traditional genus Cervus has been divided into four different genera (each formerly being a subgenus).
The plesiometacarpal foot structure is a diagnostic feature of this group, with the second and fifth metapodials being reduced to proximal splinters of bone adjacent to the 'wrists'. Tarsal glands are always absent. Unlike the New World deer (Capreolinae), the antlers begin growing immediately after the last pair is shed.
(From Hernandez-Fernandez and Vrba, 2005)
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