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Dating placentalia: Morphological clocks fail to close the molecular-fossil gap

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-886
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Early online date6 Apr 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Mar 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 6 Apr 2016
DatePublished (current) - 14 Apr 2016


Dating the origin of Placentalia has been a contentious issue for biologists and paleontologists. While it is likely that crown-group placentals originated in the Late Cretaceous, nearly all molecular clock estimates point to a deeper Cretaceous origin. An approach with the potential to reconcile this discrepancy could be the application of a morphological clock. This would permit the direct incorporation of fossil data in node dating, and would break long internal branches of the tree, so leading to improved estimates of node ages. Here, we use a large morphological dataset and the tip-calibration approach of Mr Bayes. We find that the estimated date for the origin of crown mammals is much older (~130–145 Ma) than fossil and molecular clock data (~80–90 Ma). Our results suggest that tip-calibration may result in estimated dates that are more ancient than those obtained from other sources of data. This can be partially overcome by constraining the ages of internal nodes on the tree; however, when this was applied to our dataset, the estimated dates were still substantially more ancient than expected. We recommend that results obtained using tip-calibration, and possibly morphological dating more generally, should be treated with caution.

    Research areas

  • Mammalia, molecular clock, morphological clock, placentalia, tip-dating

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  • Puttick et al 2016 Evolution

    Rights statement: © 2016 The Author(s). Evolution published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Society for the Study of Evolution. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

    Final published version, 883 KB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY


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