POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF RECONSTRUCTING DEEP TIME EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY WITH ONLY EXTANT DATA, A CASE STUDY USING THE CANIDAE (MAMMALIA, CARNIVORA)

Authors

  • John A. Finarelli,

    1. School of Biology & Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Science Education and Research Centre – West, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
    2. UCD Earth institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
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  • Anjali Goswami

    1. Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    2. Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Reconstructing evolutionary patterns and their underlying processes is a central goal in biology. Yet many analyses of deep evolutionary histories assume that data from the fossil record is too incomplete to include, and rely solely on databases of extant taxa. Excluding fossil taxa assumes that character state distributions across living taxa are faithful representations of a clade's entire evolutionary history. Many factors can make this assumption problematic. Fossil taxa do not simply lead-up to extant taxa; they represent now-extinct lineages that can substantially impact interpretations of character evolution for extant groups. Here, we analyze body mass data for extant and fossil canids (dogs, foxes, and relatives) for changes in mean and variance through time. AIC-based model selection recovered distinct models for each of eight canid subgroups. We compared model fit of parameter estimates for (1) extant data alone and (2) extant and fossil data, demonstrating that the latter performs significantly better. Moreover, extant-only analyses result in unrealistically low estimates of ancestral mass. Although fossil data are not always available, reconstructions of deep-time organismal evolution in the absence of deep-time data can be highly inaccurate, and we argue that every effort should be made to include fossil data in macroevolutionary studies.

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