Sunday, August 02, 2009

Living Fossils?

Nine exceptional radiations plus high turnover explain species diversity in jawed vertebrates
The other main deviations from our constant-rate model are the prototypical ‘‘living fossil’’ lineages, old lineages with few extant species (17, 18). In our study, 3 living fossil lineages are notable for both their low rate of speciation and extremely low rates of extinction. These groups stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the vertebrate tree, which is characterized by high rates of both speciation and extinction (Fig. 2). This highlights one of the key challenges presented by living fossils to molecular based studies of extant diversity: although young species-rich groups can be explained by a transient increase in net diversification rates for a relatively short period, older species-poor groups require negligible rates of both speciation and extinction over tremendously long periods of time to explain their persistence. We note that all 3 slowly evolving lineages were historically more diverse than they are today.

Why are these groups called "living fossils"? They diverged a long time ago and they have few surviving species. Why does that lead anyone to believe that the modern organisms are similiar to ancient ones?

No comments: