Tip-dating methods are becoming popular alternatives to traditional node calibration approaches for building time-scaled phylogenetic trees, but questions remain about their application to empirical datasets. We compared the performance of the most popular methods against a dated tree of fossil Canidae derived from previously published monographs. Using a canid morphology dataset, we performed tip-dating using BEAST v. 2.1.3 and MrBayes v. 3.2.5. We find that for key nodes (Canis, approx. 3.2 Ma, Caninae approx. 11.7 Ma) a non-mechanistic model using a uniform tree prior produces estimates that are unrealistically old (27.5, 38.9 Ma). Mechanistic models (incorporating lineage birth, death and sampling rates) estimate ages that are closely in line with prior research. We provide a discussion of these two families of models (mechanistic versus non-mechanistic) and their applicability to fossil datasets.
An invited contribution to the special feature ‘Putting fossils in trees: combining morphology, time, and molecules to estimate phylogenies and divergence times’.
- Received April 22, 2016.
- Accepted July 19, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.