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Data from: Reconciling hierarchical taxonomy with molecular phylogenies

Cite this dataset

Holt, Ben G.; Jønsson, Knud Andreas (2014). Data from: Reconciling hierarchical taxonomy with molecular phylogenies [Dataset]. Dryad.


Taxonomy has a history dating back to Aristotle (350BC) and has facilitated a wide range of developments in the biological sciences. Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae assumed that organisms were static creations of God and formulated the hierarchical framework of classification that we currently use. Today we know that organisms continuously evolve and it is generally accepted that these hierarchies are arbitrary constructs (Coyne and Orr 2004). The arbitrary nature of these higher taxonomic ranks does not prevent their practical use with regards to cataloguing, and communicating about, biological diversity, provided such arbitrary decisions are made on a consistent basis. However, current taxonomic hierarchies are suggested to be inconsistent, both between and within major clades (Avise and Liu 2011), reflecting the work of systematists with diverging views regarding the constitution of higher taxonomic ranks. In this study, we present a comprehensive analysis of the overall levels of consistency within current higher taxonomic ranks using dated phylogenies for all bird and mammal species. Building on work by Hennig (1966), and proposed by Avise and Johns (1999), “temporal banding” provides an opportunity to assess the consistency of ancestral relationships within and among higher taxonomic ranks, as well as a practical solution to these temporal inconsistencies. Temporal banding standardises taxonomic ranks by “cutting” dated phylogenies at specified points in time and applying this concept requires comprehensive dated phylogenies, which has so far limited the application of the approach. Here we apply temporal banding to two vertebrate classes (birds and mammals) and produce standardised error metrics to compare the consistency of existing taxonomic ranks within and between the two classes. We discuss the implications of error within the phylogenies used, as well as the practicalities of the temporal banding approach.

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