Postdoctoral Fellow

Methods to examine trait evolution on trees: advancing the field

PI(s): Brian C O'Meara
Start Date: 1-Nov-2007
End Date: 31-Jul-2009
Keywords: database, phylogenetics, genomics, comparative methods

Examining the evolution of morphological, behavioral, geographical, genetic, biochemical, and physiological traits using methods that incorporate phylogenetic information has been an important area of growth in evolutionary biology for over two decades. As more methods are made available, the ability to test hypotheses and infer patterns of trait evolution becomes ever greater. However, the wide variety of methods in the literature and the limited communication between sub-disciplines in biology hampers method use and development. Broadly-applicable methods developed in one sub-discipline go unused in other sub-disciplines; biologists may not test certain hypotheses due to a perceived lack of relevant methods; and those who would develop methods to meet current needs have difficulty finding which areas require such work. I intend to develop and implement methods to help understand trait evolution, first identifying and communicating areas of need.

This project has four main goals. 1) Describing extant methods: A database of existing phylogenetic methods for examining trait evolution, from fields of genomics, paleontology, and comparative biology, will be creating using information from the literature. 2) Identifying underdeveloped areas: use database above. These areas will be communicated through a publication targeted to a general audience and through a website featuring the database and searchable by input data type, software availability, significance criterion, and other factors. This will allow empiricists to find appropriate methods quickly and permit theoreticians, especially those from fields outside biology, to identify areas still needing development. 3) Develop new methods in some of these areas. 4) Implement these new methods in existing software and integrate this software into Mesquite and CIPRES/Kepler. By the end of this project, empiricists will more easily identify relevant techniques and software to answer their questions, methods still needing development will be publicized, and a subset of the areas needing development will have methods created and implemented.

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