Assessing the impact of incomplete species sampling on estimates of speciation and extinction rates

Warnock, Rachel
Heath, Tracy
Heath, Tracy
Stadler, Tanja
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

Estimating speciation and extinction rates is essential for understanding past and present biodiversity, but is challenging given the incompleteness of the rock and fossil records. Interest in this topic has led to a divergent suite of independent methods—paleontological estimates based on sampled stratigraphic ranges and phylogenetic estimates based on the observed branching times in a given phylogeny of living species. The fossilized birth–death (FBD) process is a model that explicitly recognizes that the branching events in a phylogenetic tree and sampled fossils were generated by the same underlying diversification process. A crucial advantage of this model is that it incorporates the possibility that some species may never be sampled. Here, we present an FBD model that estimates tree-wide diversification rates from stratigraphic range data when the underlying phylogeny of the fossil taxa may be unknown. The model can be applied when only occurrence data for taxonomically identified fossils are available, but still accounts for the incomplete phylogenetic structure of the data. We tested this new model using simulations and focused on how inferences are impacted by incomplete fossil recovery. We compared our approach with a phylogenetic model that does not incorporate incomplete species sampling and to three fossil-based alternatives for estimating diversification rates, including the widely implemented boundary-crosser and three-timer methods. The results of our simulations demonstrate that estimates under the FBD model are robust and more accurate than the alternative methods, particularly when fossil data are sparse, as the FBD model incorporates incomplete species sampling explicitly.


This article is published as Warnock, Rachel CM, Tracy A. Heath, and Tanja Stadler. "Assessing the impact of incomplete species sampling on estimates of speciation and extinction rates." Paleobiology (2020). doi: 10.1017/pab.2020.12.