Implicit in all phylogenetic methods for studying character evolution is a tree-shaped branching diagram, alternatively called a dendrogram, cladogram, phenogram, or tree, depending on the methods used to construct the diagram, and the information content it is intended to convey. It is important to note that each of the many alterative methods for building trees that are currently available was designed to communicate different kinds of information. The methods grouped formally as 'phylogenetic systematics' (cladistics) exclusively use derived similarities (synapomorphies)
to hypothesize genealogical relationships. This is to be contrasted with phenetic methods which use measures of overall similarity to group taxa, including both primitive and derived aspects of similarity. Cladistic methods generate branched diagrams referred to as cladograms, which should be viewed as summary diagrams depicting the branching pattern most consistent with a given data set (morphological or molecular). It is important to distinguish raw cladograms from phylogenetic trees; there is no time dimension to a cladogram per se, and the branch lengths are simply proportional to the minimum number of steps required to map all the character states onto that tree. A robust phylogenetic tree is usually the result of several or many phylogenetic analyses. The geological time frames associated with branching events are usually estimated from external paleontological, molecular, and biogeographic sources of information.
Figure 1 provides a conceptual overview for how phylogenetic trees may be used to study phenotypic evolution. All comparative approaches begin by assuming (or building) a hypothesis of genealogical interrelationships among the taxa of interest. There are many methods, even whole philosophies, of tree building, and the reader is referred to Page and Holmes (1998) for an introduction to this literature. Phylogenetic methods are then used to optimize character states at internal nodes of the tree; these nodes or branching points are hypothesized speciation events. Comparisons of trait values at ancestral and descendant nodes of the tree allow the history of phenotypic changes to be traced. The distribution of these phenotypic changes (also known as steps or transformations) can then be assessed, qualitatively or quantitatively, depending on the types of data examined and the analytical methods employed.
Systematics Optimization Evolution
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