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Paleobiology. 1993;19(2):168-84.

Numerical experiments with model monophyletic and paraphyletic taxa.

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  • 1Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


The problem of how accurately paraphyletic taxa versus monophyletic (i.e., holophyletic) groups (clades) capture underlying species patterns of diversity and extinction is explored with Monte Carlo simulations. Phylogenies are modeled as stochastic trees. Paraphyletic taxa are defined in an arbitrary manner by randomly choosing progenitors and clustering all descendants not belonging to other taxa. These taxa are then examined to determine which are clades, and the remaining paraphyletic groups are dissected to discover monophyletic subgroups. Comparisons of diversity patterns and extinction rates between modeled taxa and lineages indicate that paraphyletic groups can adequately capture lineage information under a variety of conditions of diversification and mass extinction. This suggests that these groups constitute more than mere "taxonomic noise" in this context. But, strictly monophyletic groups perform somewhat better, especially with regard to mass extinctions. However, when low levels of paleontologic sampling are simulated, the veracity of clades deteriorates, especially with respect to diversity, and modeled paraphyletic taxa often capture more information about underlying lineages. Thus, for studies of diversity and taxic evolution in the fossil record, traditional paleontologic genera and families need not be rejected in favor of cladistically-defined taxa.

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