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Integrating fossils into phylogenies
Phylogenetic Paleobiology: What do we stand to gain from integrating fossils and phylogenies in macroevolutionary analyses?
The aim of macroevolutionary science is to understand the patterns and processes responsible for generating organismal diversity in space and time. Although macroevolutionary change typically occurs over geologic timescales and has traditionally been studied by paleobiologists, comparative biologists have become increasingly interested in macroevolutionary questions, utilizing time-calibrated molecular phylogenies of extant taxa as a framework for testing hypotheses about rates of evolution. In this seminar, I’ll examine how integrating fossils and phylogenies can increase our power to test and answer fundamental questions about tempo and mode in phenotypic evolution. Integrating fossil taxa into phylogenies of extant taxa is worth the effort: on a per taxon basis, fossils contribute more information about macroevolutionary pattern and process and increase our ability to distinguish processes that leave similar signals in extant species datasets. I’ll discuss some recent work, and highlight how fossil information can be used to inform macroevolutionary inference when a combined phylogeny is lacking. One theme emerges from all of this work; we stand to gain a better understanding of macroevolution not when we approach it as biologists or paleontologists but, as G.G. Simpson recommended 60 years ago, as practitioners of both.