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Mol Biol Evol 2006 Oct 01;2310:1832-51. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msl039.
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Testing the molecular clock: molecular and paleontological estimates of divergence times in the Echinoidea (Echinodermata).

Smith AB , Pisani D , Mackenzie-Dodds JA , Stockley B , Webster BL , Littlewood DT .

The phylogenetic relationships of 46 echinoids, with representatives from 13 of the 14 ordinal-level clades and about 70% of extant families commonly recognized, have been established from 3 genes (3,226 alignable bases) and 119 morphological characters. Morphological and molecular estimates are similar enough to be considered suboptimal estimates of one another, and the combined data provide a tree that, when calibrated against the fossil record, provides paleontological estimates of divergence times and completeness of their fossil record. The order of branching on the cladogram largely agrees with the stratigraphic order of first occurrences and implies that their fossil record is more than 85% complete at family level and at a resolution of 5-Myr time intervals. Molecular estimates of divergence times derived from applying both molecular clock and relaxed molecular clock models are concordant with estimates based on the fossil record in up to 70% of cases, with most concordant results obtained using Sanderson''s semiparametric penalized likelihood method and a logarithmic-penalty function. There are 3 regions of the tree where molecular and fossil estimates of divergence time consistently disagree. Comparison with results obtained when molecular divergence dates are estimated from the combined (morphology + gene) tree suggests that errors in phylogenetic reconstruction explain only one of these. In another region the error most likely lies with the paleontological estimates because taxa in this region are demonstrated to have a very poor fossil record. In the third case, morphological and paleontological evidence is much stronger, and the topology for this part of the molecular tree differs from that derived from the combined data. Here the cause of the mismatch is unclear but could be methodological, arising from marked inequality of molecular rates. Overall, the level of agreement reached between these different data and methodological approaches leads us to believe that careful application of likelihood and Bayesian methods to molecular data provides realistic divergence time estimates in the majority of cases (almost 80% in this specific example), thus providing a remarkably well-calibrated phylogeny of a character-rich clade of ubiquitous marine benthic invertebrates.

PubMed ID: 16777927
Article link: Mol Biol Evol

Genes referenced: clock