Don't blame the dinosaurs

The mammalian tree is rooted deeply and branched early!

(click for larger image)

All orders are labelled and major lineages are coloured as follows: black, Monotremata; orange, Marsupialia; blue, Afrotheria; yellow, Xenarthra; green, Laurasiatheria; and red, Euarchontoglires. Families that were reconstructed as non-monophyletic are represented multiple times and numbered accordingly. Branch lengths are proportional to time, with the K/T boundary indicated by a black, dashed circle. The scale indicates Myr.

That's the message of a new paper in Nature that compiled sequence data from 4,510 mammalian species (out of 4,554) to assembly that lovely diagram above. Challenging the 'conventional wisdom' that mammalian diversity is the product of an opportunistic radiation of species after the dinosaurs were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, the authors instead identified two broad periods of evolutionary expansion among the mammals: an early event 100-85 million years ago when the extant orders first appeared, and a radiation of modern families in the late Eocene/Miocene. A key point is that there is no change in rates of taxon formation across the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary—mammalian diversity was rich before the dinosaurs disappeared.

Continue reading "Don't blame the dinosaurs" (on Pharyngula)