Fossils, phylogenies, and the challenge of preserving evolutionary history in the face of anthropogenic extinctions

Danwei Huang, Emma E. Goldberg, Kaustuv Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Anthropogenic impacts are endangering many long-lived species and lineages, possibly leading to a disproportionate loss of existing evolutionary history (EH) in the future. However, surprisingly little is known about the loss of EH duringmajor extinctions in the geological past, and thus we do not know whether human impacts are pruning the tree of life in a manner that is unique in the history of life. Amajor impediment to comparing the loss of EH during past and current extinctions is the conceptual difference in how ages are estimated from paleontological data versus molecular phylogenies. In the former case the age of a taxon is its entire stratigraphic range, regardless of how many daughter taxa it may have produced; for the latter it is the time to the most recent common ancestor shared with another extant taxon. To explore this issue, we use simulations to understand how the loss of EH is manifested in the two data types. We also present empirical analyses of the marine bivalve clade Pectinidae (scallops) during a major Plio-Pleistocene extinction in California that involved a preferential loss of younger species. Overall, our results show that the conceptual difference in how ages are estimated from the stratigraphic record versus molecular phylogenies does not preclude comparisons of age selectivities of past and present extinctions. Such comparisons not only provide fundamental insights into the nature of the extinction process but should also help improve evolutionarily informed models of conservation prioritization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4909-4914
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume112
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 21 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Bivalves
  • Extinction
  • Fossil record
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • Phylogeny

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