Tips and nodes are complimentary not competing approaches to the calibration of molecular clocks

Joseph O'Reilly*, Philip Donoghue

*Corresponding author for this work

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

21 Citations (Scopus)
350 Downloads (Pure)


Molecular clock methodology provides the best means of establishing evolutionary timescales, the accuracy and precision of which remains reliant on calibration, traditionally based on fossil constraints on clade (node) ages. Tip-calibration has been developed to obviate undesirable aspects of node calibration, including the need for maximum age constraints that are invariably very difficult to justify. Instead, tip-calibration incorporates fossil species as dated tips alongside living relatives, potentially improving the accuracy and precision of divergence time estimates. We demonstrate that tip-calibration yields node calibrations that violate fossil evidence, contributing to unjustifiably young and ancient age estimates, less precise and (presumably) accurate than conventional node calibration. However, we go on to show that node and tip calibrations are complementary, producing meaningful age estimates, with node minima enforcing realistic ages and fossil tips interacting with node calibrations to objectively define maximum age constraints on clade ages. Together, tip and node calibration may yield evolutionary timescales that are better justified, more precise and accurate than either calibration strategy can achieve alone.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20150975
Number of pages9
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2016


  • Calibration
  • Hymenoptera
  • Molecular clock
  • Node
  • Tip

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