How the Past Impacts the Future: Modelling the Performance of Evolutionarily Distinct Mammals through Time


Conference Presentation: The evolutionary potential of 'living fossils'.

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.

Quantifying the living fossil concept

Access content Open-access! 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.

Evolutionarily distinct “living fossils” require both lower speciation and lower extinction rates

Access content Pay-walled :-( 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?

Thesis: An appraisal of the ‘Living Fossil’ Concept

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.