Bayesian Estimation of Speciation and Extinction from Incomplete Fossil Occurrence Data

Daniele Silvestro, Jan Schnitzler, Lee Hsiang Liow, Alexandre Antonelli and Nicolas Salamin in Systematic Biology

Daniele Silvestro, Jan Schnitzler, Lee Hsiang LiowAlexandre Antonelli and Nicolas Salamin in Systematic Biology


The temporal dynamics of species diversity are shaped by variations in the rates of speciation and extinction, and there is a long history of inferring these rates using first and last appearances of taxa in the fossil record. Understanding diversity dynamics critically depends on unbiased estimates of the unobserved times of speciation and extinction for all lineages, but the inference of these parameters is challenging due to the complex nature of the available data. Here, we present a new probabilistic framework to jointly estimate species-specific times of speciation and extinction and the rates of the underlying birth-death process based on the fossil record. The rates are allowed to vary through time independently of each other, and the probability of preservation and sampling is explicitly incorporated in the model to estimate the true lifespan of each lineage. We implement a Bayesian algorithm to assess the presence of rate shifts by exploring alternative diversification models. Tests on a range of simulated data sets reveal the accuracy and robustness of our approach against violations of the underlying assumptions and various degrees of data incompleteness. Finally, we demonstrate the application of our method with the diversification of the mammal family Rhinocerotidae and reveal a complex history of repeated and independent temporal shifts of both speciation and extinction rates, leading to the expansion and subsequent decline of the group. The estimated parameters of the birth-death process implemented here are directly comparable with those obtained from dated molecular phylogenies. Thus, our model represents a step towards integrating phylogenetic and fossil information to infer macroevolutionary processes.

First published online: 8 February, 2014

Tags: Systematic Biology;
Published Feb. 10, 2014 10:33 AM