JOINT RECONSTRUCTION OF DIVERGENCE TIMES AND LIFE-HISTORY EVOLUTION IN PLACENTAL MAMMALS USING A PHYLOGENETIC COVARIANCE MODEL

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Abstract

Violation of the molecular clock has been amply documented, and is now routinely taken into account by molecular dating methods. Comparative analyses have revealed a systematic component in rate variation, relating it to the evolution of life-history traits, such as body size or generation time. Life-history evolution can be reconstructed using Brownian models. However, the resulting estimates are typically uncertain, and potentially sensitive to the underlying assumptions. As a way of obtaining more accurate ancestral trait and divergence time reconstructions, correlations between life-history traits and substitution rates could be used as an additional source of information. In this direction, a Bayesian framework for jointly reconstructing rates, traits, and dates was previously introduced. Here, we apply this model to a 17 protein-coding gene alignment for 73 placental taxa. Our analysis indicates that the coupling between molecules and life history can lead to a reevaluation of ancestral life-history profiles, in particular for groups displaying convergent evolution in body size. However, reconstructions are sensitive to fossil calibrations and to the Brownian assumption. Altogether, our analysis suggests that further integrating inference of rates and traits might be particularly useful for neontological macroevolutionary comparative studies.

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