Multiple modes of inference reveal less phylogenetic signal in marsupial basicranial shape compared with the rest of the cranium

Vera Weisbecker, Robin M. D. Beck, Thomas Guillerme, Arianna R. Harrington, Leonie Lange-Hodgson, Michael S. Y. Lee, Karine Mardon, Matthew J. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Incorporating morphological data into modern phylogenies allows integration of fossil evidence, facilitating divergence dating and macroevolutionary inferences. Improvements in the phylogenetic utility of morphological data have been sought via Procrustes-based geometric morphometrics (GMM), but with mixed success and little clarity over what anatomical areas are most suitable. Here, we assess GMM-based phylogenetic reconstructions in a heavily sampled source of discrete characters for mammalian phylogenetics - the basicranium - in 57 species of marsupial mammals, compared with the remainder of the cranium. We show less phylogenetic signal in the basicranium compared with a 'Rest of Cranium' partition, using diverse metrics of phylogenetic signal (K mult, phylogenetically aligned principal components analysis, comparisons of UPGMA/neighbour-joining/parsimony trees and cophenetic distances to a reference phylogeny) for scaled, Procrustes-aligned landmarks and allometry-corrected residuals. Surprisingly, a similar pattern emerged from parsimony-based analyses of discrete cranial characters. The consistent results across methods suggest that easily computed metrics such as K mult can provide good guidance on phylogenetic information in a landmarking configuration. In addition, GMM data may be less informative for intricate but conservative anatomical regions such as the basicranium, while better - but not necessarily novel - phylogenetic information can be expected for broadly characterized shapes such as entire bones. This article is part of the theme issue 'The mammalian skull: development, structure and function'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220085
Number of pages16
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1880
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2023


  • geometric morphometrics
  • marsupials
  • parsimony
  • phylogenetics
  • phylomorphospace


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