Presentation to the Royal Society Part of the special meeting “The Past is a Foreign Country” The presentation slides can be downloaded via FigShare, here. An audio recording of the presentation is available here.
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Abstract: “Living fossil” is a contentious label, often used to identify clades that have experienced particularly little evolutionary change. Many of the problems associated with the term are due to a lack of a clear definition. To date, most work on the phenomenon has been primarily qualitative, leading to a list of living fossils each selected for different sets of reasons. This non-uniformity in living fossil identification makes the ubiquity, clarity and potential causes of the phenomenon difficult to assess.
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Abstract: As a label for a distinct category of life, “living fossil” is controversial. The term has multiple definitions, and it is unclear whether the label can be genuinely used to delimit biodiversity. Even taking a purely phylogenetic perspective in which a proxy for the living fossil is evolutionary distinctness (ED), an inconsistency arises: Does it refer to “dead-end” lineages doomed to extinction or “panchronic” lineages that survive through multiple epochs?
Freely available via Imperial College London’s Spiral repository
Abstract: Although the term ‘living fossil’ has been around for over 150 years, it remains scientifically undefined and contentious. Generally, it refers to any taxon that is evolutionarily unique, species-poor and exhibits traits closely resembling those of extinct taxa. This interpretation, however, is not universal. Other interpretations of the term include species that are evolutionary dead-ends, taxa that were first discovered in the fossil record and/or lineages that have undergone no (sic) morphological change.