Phylogenetics Reconstructing the Tree of Life

In This Chapter

^ Defining phylogenetics and the tree of life ^ Making and reading phylogenetic trees ^ Putting phylogenetic trees to use

£ volution can lead to speciation, in which two species arise from a single parent species (refer to Chapter 8). Starting with one life form a long, long time ago, the process of evolution has generated the diversity of life forms we see all around us. This process, all by itself, is just ridiculously cool!

Over time, the sum of these speciation events generates what scientists refer to as the tree of life. The neat thing about trees of life (scientific name: phylogenetic trees) is that they enable us to trace the history of species in much the same way that genealogical trees let people trace their family histories. In a nutshell, phylogenetics lets biologists figure out the actual history of branching (speciation) for a given set of species.

This chapter introduces you to phylogenetic trees, describing what they are and how they're made. Although knowing the history of species is pretty darned amazing in and of itself, these trees can provide a wealth of other information, too — and you also find that info in this chapter.

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