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Oecologia. 2012 Oct;170(2):501-6. doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2318-8. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

Computing diversity from dated phylogenies and taxonomic hierarchies: does it make a difference to the conclusions?

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  • 1Department of Environmental Biology, University of Rome La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.


Recently, dated phylogenies have been increasingly used for ecological studies on community structure and conservation planning. There is, however, a major impediment to a systematic application of phylogenetic methods in ecology: reliable phylogenies with time-calibrated branch lengths are lacking for a large number of taxonomic groups and this condition is likely to continue for a long time. A solution for this problem consists in using undated phylogenies or taxonomic hierarchies as proxies for dated phylogenies. Nonetheless, little is known on the potential loss of information of these approaches compared to studies using dated phylogenies with time-calibrated branch lengths. The aim of this study is to ask how the use of undated phylogenies and taxonomic hierarchies biases a very simple measure of diversity, the mean pairwise phylogenetic distance between community species, compared to the diversity of dated phylogenies derived from the freely available software Phylomatic. This is illustrated with three sets of data on plant species sampled at different scales. Our results show that: (1) surprisingly, the diversity computed from dated phylogenies derived from Phylomatic is more strongly related to the diversity computed from taxonomic hierarchies than to the diversity computed from undated phylogenies, while (2) less surprisingly, the strength of this relationship increases if we consider only angiosperm species.

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