Assessment of cladistic data availability for living mammals

2015-10-15T11:14:47Z (GMT) by Thomas Guillerme Natalie Cooper
<p>Analyses of living and fossil taxa are crucial for understanding changes in biodiversity through time. The Total Evidence method allows living and fossil taxa to be combined in phylogenies, by using molecular data for living taxa and morphological data for both living and fossil taxa. With this method, substantial overlap of morphological data among living and fossil taxa is crucial for accurately inferring topology. However, although molecular data for living species is widely available, scientists using and generating morphological data mainly focus on fossils. Therefore, there is a gap in our knowledge of neontological morphological data even in well-studied groups such as mammals. We investigated the amount of morphological (cladistic) data available for living mammals and how this data was phylogenetically distributed across orders. 22 of 28 mammalian orders have < 25% species with available morphological data; this has implications for the accurate placement of fossil taxa, although the issue is less pronounced at higher taxonomic levels. In most orders, species with available data are randomly distributed across the phylogeny, which may reduce the impact of the problem. We suggest that increased morphological data collection efforts for living taxa are needed to produce accurate Total Evidence phylogenies.</p>