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A new dimension in combining data? The use of morphology and phylogenomic data in metazoan systematics

Authors

  • Gonzalo Giribet

    1. Museum of Comparative Zoology & Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
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Gonzalo Giribet, Museum of Comparative Zoology & Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. E-mail: ggiribet@oeb.harvard.edu

Abstract

Giribet, G. 2010. A new dimension in combining data? The use of morphology and phylogenomic data in metazoan systematics. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 91: 11–19

Animal phylogenies have been traditionally inferred by using the character state information derived from the observation of a diverse array of morphological and anatomical features, but the incorporation of molecular data into the toolkit of phylogenetic characters has shifted drastically the way researchers infer phylogenies. A main reason for this is the ease at which molecular data can be obtained, compared to, e.g., traditional histological and microscopical techniques. Researchers now routinely use genomic data for reconstructing relationships among animal phyla (using whole genomes or Expressed Sequence Tags) but the amount of morphological data available to study the same phylogenetic patterns has not grown accordingly. Given the disparity between the amounts of molecular and morphological data, some authors have questioned entire morphological programs. In this review I discuss issues related to the combinability of genomic and morphological data, the informativeness of each set of characters, and conclude with a discussion of how morphology could be made scalable by utilizing new techniques that allow for non-intrusive examination of large amounts of preserved museum specimens. Morphology should therefore remains a strong field in evolutionary and comparative biology, as it continues to provide information for inferring phylogenetic patterns, is an important complement for the patterns derived from the molecular data, and it is the common nexus that allows studying fossil taxa with large data sets of molecular data.

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