Seeing the Forest for the Trees: The Limitations of Phylogenies in Comparative Biology
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CitationLosos, Jonathan B. 2011. Seeing the forest for the trees: The limitations of phylogenies in comparative biology. American Naturalist 177(6): 709-727.
AbstractThe last 30 years have seen a revolution in comparative biology. Prior to that time, systematics was not at the forefront of the biological sciences, and few scientists considered phylogenetic relationships when investigating evolutionary questions. By contrast, systematic biology is now one of the most vigorous disciplines in biology, and the use of phylogenies is not only requisite in macroevolutionary studies, but has been applied to a wide range of topics and fields that no one could possibly have envisioned 30 years ago. My message is simple: phylogenies are fundamental to comparative biology, but they are not the be all and end all. Phylogenies are powerful tools for understanding the past, but like any tool, they have their limitations. In addition, phylogenies are much more informative about pattern than they are about process. The best way to fully understand the past—both pattern and process—is to integrate phylogenies with other types of historical data as well as with direct studies of evolutionary process.
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