Comparative Cladistics: Fossils, Morphological Data Partitions and Lost Branches in the Fossil Tree of Life

  • Ross Mounce

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


In this thesis I attempt to gather together a wide range of cladistic analysis of fossil andextant taxa representing a diverse array of phylogenetic groups. I use this data toquantitatively compare the effect of fossil taxa relative to extant taxa in terms of support for relationships, number of most parsimonious trees (MPTs) and leaf stability. In line with previous studies I find that the effects of fossil taxa are seldom different to extant taxa – although I highlight some interesting exceptions. I also use this data to compare the phylogenetic signal within vertebrate morphological data sets, by choosing to compare cranial data to postcranial data. Comparisons between molecular data and morphological data have been previously well explored, as have signals between different molecular loci. But comparative signal within morphological data sets is much less commonly characterized and certainly not across a wide array of clades. With this analysis I show that there are many studies in which the evidence provided by cranial data appears to be be significantly incongruent with the postcranial data – more than one would expect to see just by the effect of chance and noise alone.I devise and implement a modification to a rarely used measure of homoplasy that willhopefully encourage its wider usage. Previously it had some undesirable bias associated with the distribution of missing data in a dataset, but my modification controls for this. I also take an in-depth and extensive review of the ILD test, noting it is often misused or reported poorly, even in recent studies.Finally, in attempting to collect data and metadata on a large scale, I uncoveredinefficiencies in the research publication system that obstruct re-use of data and scientific progress. I highlight the importance of replication and reproducibility – even simple re-analysis of high profile papers can turn up some very different results. Data is highly valuable and thus it must be retained and made available for further re-use to maximize the overall return on research investment.
Date of Award3 Oct 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMatthew Wills (Supervisor)

Cite this