While many scientists feel that fossils can offer insights from the ancient past, others have been reluctant to use extinct species because the data they offer is often less complete.
Most biologists, for example, have traditionally tried to piece together the evolutionary relationships between species using only the animals that are alive today.
But in research published in journal Systematic Biology, scientists from the University of Bath and the Natural History Museum compared the morphological datasets of 45 animal groups, both living (extant) and extinct.
By running a series of analyses they were able to measure how much the family tree of life needed to be altered when data from these extant and extinct species are included or removed.
They found no difference in the impact that the fossil groups made on the family tree compared to extant groups.
“Evolutionary biologists try to reconstruct rapid and deep evolutionary branching events that happened many tens or hundreds of millions of years ago,” said Dr Matthew Wills from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, who worked with Andrea Cobbett (University of Bath) and Dr Mark Wilkinson (Natural History Museum).
“Unlike living species, fossils offer ancient snapshots of life forms that were around at the time those branching events occurred.
“Also, living species have millions of years ‘worth’ of change piled on top of this, which can often bury the important signals we need to understand.
“Despite this, detractors have claimed that because fossil data are often less complete, usually just bones, shells and other hard parts, they are likely to muddy the water and make it difficult to find a robust evolutionary tree.
“What our research has done is demonstrate conclusively, and for the first time, that this is not the case.
“We also show that adding just one fossil to an analysis can result in a radically different picture of that group's evolutionary history. The trees constructed without fossils may be oversimplifications, and far from the truth.”
The research was funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.
Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Health and Medicine