The linking of plate tectonics and evolutionary divergence

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  • M. De Bruyn
  • M.J. Phillips
  • T.J. Page
  • M. de Bruyn
  • J.A. Huey
  • W.F. Humphreys
  • J.M. Hughes
  • S.R. Santos
  • D.J. Schmidt
  • J.M. Waters
It is exciting to be living at a time when the big questions in biology can be investigated using modern genetics and computing [1]. Bauzà-Ribot et al.[2] take on one of the fundamental drivers of biodiversity, the effect of continental drift in the formation of the world’s biota [3,4], employing next-generation sequencing of whole mitochondrial genomes and modern Bayesian relaxed molecular clock analysis. Bauzà-Ribot et al.[2] conclude that vicariance via plate tectonics best explains the genetic divergence between subterranean metacrangonyctid amphipods currently found on islands separated by the Atlantic Ocean. This finding is a big deal in biogeography, and science generally [3], as many other presumed biotic tectonic divergences have been explained as probably due to more recent transoceanic dispersal events [4]. However, molecular clocks can be problematic [5,6] and we have identified three issues with the analyses of Bauzà-Ribot et al.[2] that cast serious doubt on their results and conclusions. When we reanalyzed their mitochondrial data and attempted to account for problems with calibration [5,6], modeling rates across branches [5,7] and substitution saturation [5], we inferred a much younger date for their key node. This implies either a later trans-Atlantic dispersal of these crustaceans, or more likely a series of later invasions of freshwaters from a common marine ancestor, but either way probably not ancient tectonic plate movements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R603-605
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2013
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