Testing the relationship between morphological and molecular rates of change along phylogenies

Bromham L, Woolfit M, Lee MS & Rambaut A

(2002) Evolution 56, 1921-1930.

Molecular evolution has been considered to be essentially a stochastic process, little influenced by the pace of phenotypic change. This assumption was challenged by a study that demonstrated an association between rates of morphological and molecular change estimated for total-evidence phylogenies, a finding that led some researchers to challenge molecular date estimates of major evolutionary radiations. Here we show that Omlands (1997) result is probably due to methodological bias, particularly phylogenetic nonindependence, rather than being indicative of an underlying evolutionary phenomenon. We apply three new methods specifically designed to overcome phylogenetic bias to 13 published phylogenetic datasets for vertebrate taxa, each of which includes both morphological characters and DNA sequence data. We find no evidence of an association between rates of molecular and morphological rates of change.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007