The series, the network, and the tree: changing metaphors of order in nature

Rieppel, Olivier
September 2010
Biology & Philosophy;Sep2010, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p475
Academic Journal
The history of biological systematics documents a continuing tension between classifications in terms of nested hierarchies congruent with branching diagrams (the ‘Tree of Life’) versus reticulated relations. The recognition of conflicting character distribution led to the dissolution of the scala naturae into reticulated systems, which were then transformed into phylogenetic trees by the addition of a vertical axis. The cladistic revolution in systematics resulted in a representation of phylogeny as a strictly bifurcating pattern (cladogram). Due to the ubiquity of character conflict—at the genetic or morphological level, or at any level in between—some characters will necessarily have to be discarded ( qua noise) in favor of others in support of a strictly bifurcating phylogenetic tree. Pattern analysts will seek maximal congruence in the distribution of characters (ultimately of any kind) relative to a branching tree-topology; process explainers will call such tree-topologies into question by reference to incompatible evolutionary processes. Pattern analysts will argue that process explanations must not be brought to bear on pattern reconstruction; process explainers will insist that the reconstructed pattern requires a process explanation to become scientifically relevant, i.e., relevant to evolutionary theory. The core question driving the current debate about the adequacy of the ‘Tree of Life’ metaphor seems to be whether the systematic dichotomization of the living world is an adequate representation of the complex evolutionary history of global biodiversity. In ‘Questioning the Tree of Life’, it seems beneficial to draw at least four conceptual distinctions: pattern reconstruction versus process explanation as different epistemological approaches to the study of phylogeny; open versus closed systems as expressions of different kinds of population (species) structures; phylogenetic trees versus cladograms as representations of evolutionary processes versus patterns of relationships; and genes versus species as expressions of different levels of causal integration and evolutionary transformation.


Related Articles

  • Astrocladistics: A Phylogenetic Analysis of Galaxy Evolution I. Character Evolutions and Galaxy Histories. Fraix-Burnet, Didier; Choler, Philippe; Douzery, Emmanuel J. P.; Verhamme, Anne // Journal of Classification;2006, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p31 

    This series of papers is intended to present astrocladistics in some detail and evaluate this methodology in reconstructing phylogenies of galaxies. Being based on the evolution of all the characters describing galaxies, it is an objective way of understanding galaxy diversity through...

  • Astrocladistics: A Phylogenetic Analysis of Galaxy Evolution II. Formation and Diversification of Galaxies. Fraix-Burnet, Didier; Choler, Philippe; Douzery, Emmanuel J. P.; Verhamme, Anne // Journal of Classification;2006, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p57 

    This series of papers is intended to evaluate astrocladistics in reconstructing phylogenies of galaxies. The objective of this second paper is to formalize the concept of galaxy formation and to identify the processes of diversification. We show that galaxy diversity can be expected to organize...

  • A PHYLOGENETIC REVIEW OF THE GENUS HERAEUS (RHYPAROCHROMIDAE, MYODOCHINI). Dellapé, Pablo M.; Melo, María C. // Darwiniana;nov2007 suplemento, Vol. 45 Issue 2, p73 

    The article discusses a study which examined the phylogeny of Rhyparochromidae species Myodochini. The objectives of the study are to provide a taxonomic revision of the genus Heraeus and do a cladistic analysis of the species. Seven new species under the genus are described as well as their...

  • Do orthologous gene phylogenies really support tree-thinking? Bapteste, E; Susko, E; Leigh, J; MacLeod, D; Charlebois, RL; Doolittle, WF // BMC Evolutionary Biology;2005, Vol. 5, p1 

    Background: Since Darwin's Origin of Species, reconstructing the Tree of Life has been a goal of evolutionists, and tree-thinking has become a major concept of evolutionary biology. Practically, building the Tree of Life has proven to be tedious. Too few morphological characters are useful for...

  • Turning the Crown Upside Down: Gene Tree Parsimony Roots the Eukaryotic Tree of Life. Katz, Laura A.; Grant, Jessica R.; Parfrey, Laura Wegener; Burleigh, J. Gordon // Systematic Biology;Jul2012, Vol. 61 Issue 4, p653 

    The first analyses of gene sequence data indicated that the eukaryotic tree of life consisted of a long stem of microbial groups “topped” by a crown-containing plants, animals, and fungi and their microbial relatives. Although more recent multigene concatenated analyses have refined...

  • The Information Content of Trees and Their Matrix Representations. Wilkinson, Mark; Cotton, James A.; Thorley, Joseph L. // Systematic Biology;Dec2004, Vol. 53 Issue 6, p989 

    Employs a quantitative measure, cladistic information content, to compare the information content of trees and their matrix representations. Ronquist's critique of Purvis coding; Demonstration that the information removed by this method is redundant; Distinction between the representation of a...

  • Weighted bootstrapping: a correction method for assessing the robustness of phylogenetic trees. Makarenkov, Vladimir; Boc, Alix; Jingxin Xie; Peres-Neto, Pedro; Lapointe, François-Joseph; Legendre, Pierre // BMC Evolutionary Biology;2010, Vol. 10, p250 

    Background: Non-parametric bootstrapping is a widely-used statistical procedure for assessing confidence of model parameters based on the empirical distribution of the observed data [1] and, as such, it has become a common method for assessing tree confidence in phylogenetics [2]. Traditional...

  • A Fluvioviridavis-like bird from the Middle Eocene of Messel, Germany. Mayr, Gerald // Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences;Nov2005, Vol. 42 Issue 11, p2021 

    A new avian taxon is described from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany. This bird closely resembles the Lower Eocene North American Fluvioviridavis platyrhamphus Mayr and Daniels, 2001. Eurofluvioviridavis robustipes n. gen. et sp. and F. platyrhamphus are classified in the new taxon...

  • Evolutionary Changes in the Complexity of the Tectum of Nontetrapods: A Cladistic Approach. Maximino, Caio // PLoS ONE;2008, Vol. 3 Issue 10, p1 

    Background: The tectum is a structure localized in the roof of the midbrain in vertebrates, and is taken to be highly conserved in evolution. The present article assessed three hypotheses concerning the evolution of lamination and citoarchitecture of the tectum of nontetrapod animals: 1) There...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics