Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson 2022 omitted dozens of pertinent taxa
(Figs 1, 3, 4) as they reported, “The origin of amniotes 320 million years ago signaled independence from water in vertebrates and was closely followed by divergences within the mammal and reptile stem lineages (Synapsida and Reptilia).”
The three Oxford authors were too late. Twice. In 2011 the large reptile tree (LRT, 2088 taxa) split basal Reptilia (= Amniota) into Lepidosauromorpha (including turtles) and Archosauromorpha (including Synapsida). That amniote split was already radiating in the Viséan, 345–331 mya. So the authors undershot the origin of reptiles by at least 25 million years — and a decade, both due to taxon exclusion
Don’t let taxon exclusion be the downfall of your paper.
Don’t cherry-pick taxa. Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson thought the basalmost reptile/ amniote, Silvanerpeton, and other amphibian-like amniotes (Fig 1) were not worth testing. As a result the authors considered three basal amniotes,Tseajaia, Limnoscelis and Gephyrostegus, as non-amniote outgroups. That’s been wrong/ misguided/ old-fashioned for far too long. Adding taxa (the list is online) is so simple. Why don’t workers do it? It doesn’t take a PhD to figure this out.
Without a valid phylogenetic context (due to taxon exclusion)
the Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson cladogram (Fig 2) supports current myths taught in vertebrate paleontology textbooks. The authors did not have the scientific curiosity, or were not brave enough, to add pertinent taxa identified a decade ago by the LRT. All three authors are from Oxford University. If that is what they are teaching there, you might think about getting your paleo education elsewhere.
Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson report,
“thus far there has been no study of macroevolutionary patterns during the origin and early radiation of amniotes including a broad selection of all clades, allowing direct comparison of the evolutionary patterns within the major lineages, and across many anatomical regions.”
The LRT is exactly that study the authors say does not exist. What does that make them? Because Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson kept their blinders on, and omitted pertinent taxa, these three PhDs fell far short of their goal and created a phylogenetic mess (Fig 1). They cherry-picked their taxon list from past cherry-picked lists instead of expanding their list to let their software tell them which taxa were outgroup and ingroup taxa and how they were all interrelated, like the LRT (subsets Figs 3, 4).
Taxon exclusion problems
Outgroup taxa in the Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson amniote study include Seymouria (which is good) and three reptiles: Gephyrostegus, Tseajaia and Limnoscelis (which is not good).
Missing ingroup taxa include the last common ancestor of all amniotes: Silvanerpeton (Fig 1).
Missing basal archosauromorpha include Eldeceeon, Diplovertebron, Romeriscus, Bystrowiella, Solenodonsaurus, Chroniosuchids, Westlothiana, Casineria, Brouffia, Coelostegus and Anarosaurus (basal to mesosaurs) among others (Fig 3).
As a result the following errors appear in Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson:
“Synapsida” should not include Caseasauria.
Amniota should not split “Reptilia” from “Synapsida”. Only taxon exclusion, and probably a slew of bad scores, recovers this traditional topology. The authors do not show reconstructions of included taxa, so they hope their readers trust their ability to score traits. By contrast the LRT shows reconstructions of every included taxa (e.g. Fig. 1) for complete transparency.
Strange nestings include:
The diapsids Petrolacosaurus and Araeoscelis (with dual temporal openings) improperly nesting basal to protodiapsids (with a single temporal opening). When things go wrong phylogenetically like this, the order sometimes appears upside-down. When this happens it should raise a red flag. Don’t ignore red flags like this. Inspect them and add taxa.
I could go on,
but if you are interested in all the details, you can compare the LRT (subsets Figs 3, 4) with the Brocklehurst, Ford and Benson cladogram (Fig 2).
Simply adding correctly scored taxa resolves all phylogenetic issues.
Be brave. Be curious. Be scientific. Add taxa. Simple as that.
don’t keep your blinders on. Show some curiosity. Show some integrity. Show some independence. Remember, you are supposed to be scientists, always testing for confirmation, refutation or correction. You can teach from the standard textbook when it is correct and depart from it when it needs to be updated. Your students will appreciate your efforts.
Brocklehurst N, Ford DP and Benson RBJ 2022. Early origins of divergent patterns of morphological evolution on the mammal and reptile stem-lineages. Sytematic Biology 0(0):1–15. https://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syac020
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