Tectonic blocks and molecular clocks
Kenneth De Baets, Alexandre Antonelli, Philip C. J. Donoghue
Published 20 June 2016. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0098
Possible relationship between divergences of terrestrial groups with different dispersal abilities and the age constraints from the break-up of continents and formation of oceans. Continent reconstructions are simplified after Stanley & Luczaj .
Evolutionary timescales have mainly used fossils for calibrating molecular clocks, though fossils only really provide minimum clade age constraints. In their place, phylogenetic trees can be calibrated by precisely dated geological events that have shaped biogeography. However, tectonic episodes are protracted, their role in vicariance is rarely justified, the biogeography of living clades and their antecedents may differ, and the impact of such events is contingent on ecology. Biogeographic calibrations are no panacea for the shortcomings of fossil calibrations, but their associated uncertainties can be accommodated. We provide examples of how biogeographic calibrations based on geological data can be established for the fragmentation of the Pangaean supercontinent: (i) for the uplift of the Isthmus of Panama, (ii) the separation of New Zealand from Gondwana, and (iii) for the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. Biogeographic and fossil calibrations are complementary, not competing, approaches to constraining molecular clock analyses, providing alternative constraints on the age of clades that are vital to avoiding circularity in investigating the role of biogeographic mechanisms in shaping modern biodiversity.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Dating species divergences using rocks and clocks’.
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