Tectonic blocks and molecular clocks

Kenneth De Baets*, Alex Antonelli, Philip Donoghue

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
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Evolutionary timescales have mainly used fossils for calibrating molecular clocks, though fossils only really provide minimum clade age constraints. In their place, phylogenetic trees can be calibrated by precisely dated geological events that have shaped biogeography. However, tectonic episodes are protracted, their role in vicariance is rarely justified, the biogeography of living clades and their antecedents may differ, and the impact of such events is contingent on ecology. Biogeographic calibrations are no panacea for the shortcomings of fossil calibrations but their associated uncertainties can be accommodated. We provide examples of how biogeographic calibrations based on geological data can be established for the fragmentation of the Pangean Supercontinent: (i) for the uplift of the Isthmus of Panama, and (ii) the separation of New Zealand from Gondwana, and (iii) for opening of the Atlantic Ocean. Biogeographic and fossil calibrations are complementary, not competing, approaches to constraining molecular clock analyses, providing alternative constraints on the age of clades that are vital to avoiding circularity in investigating the role of biogeographic mechanisms in shaping modern biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160098
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1699
Early online date20 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2016


  • Biogeography
  • Calibration
  • Fossil record
  • Molecular clock
  • Tectonics


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    Polly E Eccleston (Other), Simon H Atack (Other), D A G Williams (Manager), Sadaf R Alam (Manager) & Steven A Chapman (Manager)

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