Evaluating molecular clock calibrations using Bayesian analyses with soft and hard bounds

Kate L. Sanders, Michael S. Y. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


A limiting factor in many molecular dating studies is shortage of reliable calibrations. Current methods for choosing calibrations (e.g. cross-validation) treat them as either correct or incorrect, whereas calibrations probably lie on a continuum from highly accurate to very poor. Bayesian relaxed clock analysis permits inclusion of numerous candidate calibrations as priors: provided most calibrations are reliable, the model appropriate and the data informative, the accuracy of each calibration prior can be evaluated. If a calibration is accurate, then the analysis will support the prior so that the posterior estimate reflects the prior; if a calibration is poor, the posterior will be forced away from the prior. We use this approach to test two fossil dates recently proposed as standard calibrations within vertebrates. The proposed bird-crocodile calibration (approx. 247 Myr ago) appears to be accurate, but the proposed bird-lizard calibration (approx. 255 Myr ago) is substantially too recent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-279
Number of pages5
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes


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