Meeting: Working Group

Fossil and Molecular Estimates of Divergence Times for the Tree of Life: Database and Synthesis

Date6-Sep-2006 ~ 10-Sep-2006
ProjectFossil and molecular estimates of divergence times for the tree of life: database and synthesis
SummaryThe central aim of macroevolutionary research is to measure and compare evolutionary changes over time. Yet measurements of evolutionary time are controversial. Evolutionists have still not reached consensus about the timing of origins of major taxa like bilateral animals, flowering plants, mammals or birds ? not to mention smaller clades with poor fossil records. This lack of consensus highlights a central controversy in the field of evolution: the reliability and interpretation of divergence time studies. Can we trust molecular estimates of divergence times, even when they conflict significantly with the fossil record? How reliable is the fossil record for estimating origins of taxa? Are some lineage attributes, such as preservation potential, related to accuracy of fossil estimates of first appearances? Do some attributes of molecular data make accurate divergence time estimates impossible? Do we expect genetic divergences always to coincide with morphological divergences? How do different estimates of evolutionary time affect our conclusions about evolution? We propose to establish a working group to create an integrated database to allow researchers to address these fundamental questions. The FAMED (Fossil and Molecular Estimates of Divergences) database aims to compile and integrate fossil calibration points and available molecular data. We propose a diverse team of paleontologists, molecular phylogeneticists, and statisticians, with broad taxonomic expertise will assemble the database and provide easy public access. The team will also use the data to test hypotheses for incongruence between fossil and molecular divergence estimates and date controversial clade origins for the tree of life.