Multiple morphological clocks and total-evidence tip-dating in mammals

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Morphological integration predicts that correlated characters will coevolve; thus, each distinct suite of correlated characters might be expected to evolve according to a separate clock or 'pacemaker'. Characters in a large morphological dataset for mammals were found to be evolving according to seven separate clocks, each distinct from the molecular clock. Total-evidence tip-dating using these multiple clocks inflated divergence time estimates, but potentially improved topological inference. In particular, single-clock analyses placed several meridiungulates and condylarths in a heterodox position as stem placentals, but multi-clock analyses retrieved a more plausible and orthodox position within crown placentals. Several shortcomings (including uneven character sampling) currently impact upon the accuracy of total-evidence dating, but this study suggests that when sufficiently large and appropriately constructed phenotypic datasets become more commonplace, multi-clock approaches are feasible and can affect both divergence dates and phylogenetic relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160033
Number of pages5
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Bayesian phylogenetics
  • Mammalia
  • Morphological integration
  • Relaxed clocks
  • Tip-dating
  • Total-evidence dating


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