Fossils and living taxa agree on patterns of body mass evolution: A case study with Afrotheria

Mark N. Puttick, Gavin H. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (SciVal)


Most of life is extinct, so incorporating some fossil evidence into analyses of macroevolution is typically seen as necessary to understand the diversification of life and patterns of morphological evolution. Here we test the effects of inclusion of fossils in a study of the body size evolution of afrotherian mammals, a clade that includes the elephants, sea cows and elephant shrews. We find that the inclusion of fossil tips has little impact on analyses of body mass evolution; from a small ancestral size (approx. 100 g), there is a shift in rate and an increase in mass leading to the larger-bodied Paenungulata and Tubulidentata, regardless of whether fossils are included or excluded from analyses. For Afrotheria, the inclusion of fossils and morphological character data affect phylogenetic topology, but these differences have little impact upon patterns of body mass evolution and these body mass evolutionary patterns are consistent with the fossil record. The largest differences between our analyses result from the evolutionary model, not the addition of fossils. For some clades, extant-only analyses may be reliable to reconstruct body mass evolution, but the addition of fossils and careful model selection is likely to increase confidence and accuracy of reconstructed macroevolutionary patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20152023
Pages (from-to)1 - 9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1821
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2015


  • Afrotheria
  • Ancestral size reconstruction
  • Body mass
  • Evolution
  • Fossil
  • Macroevolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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