Phylogenetic incongruence and homoplasy in the appendages and bodies of arthropods: Why broad character sampling is best

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Notwithstanding the rapidly increasing sampling density of molecular sequence data, morphological characters still make an important contribution to our understanding of the evolutionary relationships of arthropod groups. In many clades, characters relating to the number and morphological specialization of appendages are ascribed particular phylogenetic significance and may be preferentially sampled. However, previous studies have shown that partitions of morphological character matrices often imply significantly different phylogenies. Here, we ask whether a similar incongruence is observed in the appendage and non-appendage characters of arthropods. We apply tree length (incongruence length difference, ILD) and tree distance (incongruence relationship difference, IRD) tests to these partitions in an empirical sample of 53 published neontological datasets for arthropods. We find significant incongruence about one time in five: more often than expected, but markedly less often than in previous partition studies. We also find similar levels of homoplasy in limb and non-limb characters, both in terms of internal consistency and consistency relative to molecular trees. Taken together, these findings imply that sampled limb and non-limb characters are of similar phylogenetic utility and quality, and that a total evidence approach to their analysis is preferable.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Specialist publicationZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • character conflict
  • character sampling
  • consistency index
  • fossil record
  • homoplasy
  • morphological phylogenetics
  • phylogenetics
  • thoracopod morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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