Am J Phys Anthropol. 2004 Nov;125(3):207-19.
How much can cladistics tell us about early hominid relationships?
Although cladistic analysis has been used to compare hypotheses of relationships among early hominids, the outcomes of different studies have depended entirely on the assumptions made by different investigators. Problems include the close genetic relationship of early hominid taxa, small fossil sample sizes, possible correlations among characters, and a lack of understanding about the evolutionary factors affecting characters. This study investigates the interaction of some of these problems affecting early hominid phylogenetics. Monte Carlo simulations of character state evolution in closely related taxa demonstrate that the sample sizes and close genetic relationships of early hominids do not permit cladistic analyses to obtain unequivocal results. Even with unrealistically good assumptions about the evolutionary dynamics affecting characters, the probability of the most parsimonious hypothesis being true is unacceptably small. In the face of these problems, even phylogenetic statements that are supported by a strong consensus of cladistic studies may nevertheless be in error, and such errors are likely to confound the placement of new specimens and taxa. Advancement in our knowledge of hominid phylogeny can depend only on a fuller understanding of the natural history and evolutionary dynamics of traits.
(c) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
PMID: 15386256 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]