Calibrations from the Fossil Record

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Molecular clocks can be used to reconstruct evolutionary timescales based on analyses of genetic data, but these clocks need to be calibrated in order to give estimates in absolute time. Calibration is most often carried out using fossil evidence of the timing of evolutionary events, corresponding to internal nodes in phylogenetic trees. Early molecular dating studies treated fossil calibrations as point values, whereas later methods allowed calibrations to be specified as age constraints on nodes. The application of Bayesian methods to phylogenetic analysis opened up opportunities for fossil calibrations to take more complex forms. In this chapter, we trace the development and use of fossil calibrations and describe some a priori and a posteriori methods and criteria for evaluating their quality. We then present two examples of fossil calibrations from modern birds. Our chapter concludes with a discussion of the limitations of fossil calibrations, along with the changing role of the palaeontological record in molecular dating.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Molecular Evolutionary Clock
Subtitle of host publicationTheory and Practice
EditorsSimon Y. W. Ho
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783030601812
ISBN (Print)9783030601805
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Molecular clock
  • Molecular dating
  • Fossil calibration
  • Age constraints
  • Calibration prior
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Modern birds


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