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Concept: Cladistics


The fossil record of ceratopsid dinosaurs between the occurrence of their proximate sister taxa in the Turonian and the beginning of their well-documented radiation from the late Campanian of North America onwards (approximately 90 and 77 Ma) is poor, with only seven taxa described from this early period in their evolution. We describe a new taxon of a highly adorned basal centrosaurine, Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., from the lower part of the Oldman Formation (middle Campanian, approximately 78-79 Ma), Alberta, Canada. Over 200 bones derived from virtually all parts of the skeleton, including multiple well-preserved specimens of the diagnostic parietosquamosal frill, were collected from a medium-density monodominant bonebed, making the new taxon one of the best-represented early ceratopsids. The new taxon is apomorphic in having epiparietals at loci 2 and 3 developed as broad-based, pachyostotic processes that are strongly procurved anterodorsally to overhang the posterior and lateral parietal rami, and an ischium with a broad, rectangular distal terminus. Although the morphology of the nasal is incompletely known, Wendiceratops is inferred to have a large, upright nasal horn located close to the orbits, which represents the oldest occurrence of this feature in Ceratopsia. Given the phylogenetic position of the new taxon within Centrosaurinae, a enlarged nasal horn is hypothesized to have arisen independently at least twice in ceratopsid evolution.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Fossil, Paleontology, Dinosaur, Taxon, Ceratopsidae, Albertaceratops


Reconstructing the phylogenetic relationships that unite all lineages (the tree of life) is a grand challenge. The paucity of homologous character data across disparately related lineages currently renders direct phylogenetic inference untenable. To reconstruct a comprehensive tree of life, we therefore synthesized published phylogenies, together with taxonomic classifications for taxa never incorporated into a phylogeny. We present a draft tree containing 2.3 million tips-the Open Tree of Life. Realization of this tree required the assembly of two additional community resources: (i) a comprehensive global reference taxonomy and (ii) a database of published phylogenetic trees mapped to this taxonomy. Our open source framework facilitates community comment and contribution, enabling the tree to be continuously updated when new phylogenetic and taxonomic data become digitally available. Although data coverage and phylogenetic conflict across the Open Tree of Life illuminate gaps in both the underlying data available for phylogenetic reconstruction and the publication of trees as digital objects, the tree provides a compelling starting point for community contribution. This comprehensive tree will fuel fundamental research on the nature of biological diversity, ultimately providing up-to-date phylogenies for downstream applications in comparative biology, ecology, conservation biology, climate change, agriculture, and genomics.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Life, Species, Ecology, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics


The search for ever deeper relationships among the World’s languages is bedeviled by the fact that most words evolve too rapidly to preserve evidence of their ancestry beyond 5,000 to 9,000 y. On the other hand, quantitative modeling indicates that some “ultraconserved” words exist that might be used to find evidence for deep linguistic relationships beyond that time barrier. Here we use a statistical model, which takes into account the frequency with which words are used in common everyday speech, to predict the existence of a set of such highly conserved words among seven language families of Eurasia postulated to form a linguistic superfamily that evolved from a common ancestor around 15,000 y ago. We derive a dated phylogenetic tree of this proposed superfamily with a time-depth of ∼14,450 y, implying that some frequently used words have been retained in related forms since the end of the last ice age. Words used more than once per 1,000 in everyday speech were 7- to 10-times more likely to show deep ancestry on this tree. Our results suggest a remarkable fidelity in the transmission of some words and give theoretical justification to the search for features of language that might be preserved across wide spans of time and geography.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Linguistics, Language, Phylogenetic tree, Cladistics, Common descent, Ancestor


This study reports on a new ceratopsid, Spiclypeus shipporum gen et sp. nov., from the lower Coal Ridge Member of the Judith River Formation in Montana, USA, which dates to ~76 Ma (upper Campanian). The species is distinguished by rugose dorsal contacts on the premaxillae for the nasals, laterally projecting postorbital horncores, fully fused and anteriorly curled P1 and P2 epiparietals, and a posterodorsally projecting P3 epiparietal. The holotype specimen is also notable for its pathological left squamosal and humerus, which show varied signs of osteomyelitis and osteoarthritis. Although the postorbital horncores of Spiclypeus closely resemble those of the contemporaneous ‘Ceratops’, the horncores of both genera are nevertheless indistinguishable from those of some other horned dinosaurs, including Albertaceratops and Kosmoceratops; ‘Ceratops’ is therefore maintained as a nomen dubium. Cladistic analysis recovers Spiclypeus as the sister taxon to the clade Vagaceratops + Kosmoceratops, and appears transitional in the morphology of its epiparietals. The discovery of Spiclypeus adds to the poorly known dinosaur fauna of the Judith River Formation, and suggests faunal turnover within the formation.

Concepts: Cladistics, Clade, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Taxon, Linnaean taxonomy, Ceratopsidae, Nomen dubium


Taxonomic details of diversity are an essential scaffolding for biology education, yet outdated methods for teaching the tree of life (TOL), as implied by textbook content and usage, are still commonly employed. Here, we show that the traditional approach only vaguely represents evolutionary relationships, fails to denote major events in the history of life, and relies heavily on memorizing near-meaningless taxonomic ranks. Conversely, a clade-based strategy-focused on common ancestry, monophyletic groups, and derived functional traits-is explicitly based on Darwin’s “descent with modification,” provides students with a rational system for organizing the details of biodiversity, and readily lends itself to active learning techniques. We advocate for a phylogenetic classification that mirrors the TOL, a pedagogical format of increasingly complex but always hierarchical presentations, and the adoption of active learning technologies and tactics.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Species, Education, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Charles Darwin


Palaeomerycids were strange three-horned Eurasian Miocene ruminants known through fossils from Spain to China. We here study their systematics, offering the first cladistic phylogeny of the best-known species of the group, and also reassess their phylogenetic position among ruminants, which is currently disputed. The beautifully preserved remains of a new palaeomerycid from middle Miocene deposits of Spain, Xenokeryx amidalae gen. et sp. nov., helps us to better understand palaeomerycid anatomy, especially that of the nuchal region in the skull, significantly improving our current knowledge on these enigmatic ruminants. Our results show two main lineages of palaeomerycids, one containing the genus Ampelomeryx diagnosed by a characteristic type of cranium / cranial appendages and some dental derived traits, and another one that clusters those forms more closely related to Triceromeryx than to Ampelomeryx, characterized by a more derived dentition and a set of apomorphic cranial features. Xenokeryx branches as a basal offshoot of this clade. Also, we find that Eurasian palaeomerycids are not closely related to North American dromomerycids, thus rejecting the currently more accepted view of palaeomerycids as the Eurasian part of the dromomerycid lineage. Instead of this, palaeomerycids are nested with the African Miocene pecoran Propalaeoryx and with giraffoids. On the other hand, dromomerycids are closely related to cervids. We define a clade Giraffomorpha that includes palaeomerycids and giraffids, and propose an emended diagnosis of the Palaeomerycidae based on cranial and postcranial characters, including several features of the cranium not described so far. We also define the Palaeomerycidae as the least inclusive clade of pecorans containing Triceromeryx and Ampelomeryx. Finally, we reassess the taxonomy of several palaeomerycid taxa.

Concepts: Taxonomy, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Skull, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Clade, Phylogenetic comparative methods, Palaeomerycidae


The fossil record of centrosaurine ceratopsids is largely restricted to the northern region of western North America (Alberta, Montana and Alaska). Exceptions consist of single taxa from Utah (Diabloceratops) and China (Sinoceratops), plus otherwise fragmentary remains from the southern Western Interior of North America. Here, we describe a remarkable new taxon, Nasutoceratops titusi n. gen. et sp., from the late Campanian Kaiparowits Formation of Utah, represented by multiple specimens, including a nearly complete skull and partial postcranial skeleton. Autapomorphies include an enlarged narial region, pneumatic nasal ornamentation, abbreviated snout and elongate, rostrolaterally directed supraorbital horncores. The subrectangular parietosquamosal frill is relatively unadorned and broadest in the mid-region. A phylogenetic analysis indicates that Nasutoceratops is the sister taxon to Avaceratops, and that a previously unknown subclade of centrosaurines branched off early in the group’s history and persisted for several million years during the late Campanian. As the first well-represented southern centrosaurine comparable in age to the bulk of northern forms, Nasutoceratops provides strong support for the provincialism hypothesis, which posits that Laramidia-the western landmass formed by inundation of the central region of North America by the Western Interior Seaway-hosted at least two coeval dinosaur communities for over a million years of late Campanian time.

Concepts: United States, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, North America, Cretaceous, Fossil, Dinosaur, Ceratopsidae


Spiders (Order Araneae) are massively abundant generalist arthropod predators that are found in nearly every ecosystem on the planet and have persisted for over 380 million years. Spiders have long served as evolutionary models for studying complex mating and web spinning behaviors, key innovation and adaptive radiation hypotheses, and have been inspiration for important theories like sexual selection by female choice. Unfortunately, past major attempts to reconstruct spider phylogeny typically employing the “usual suspect” genes have been unable to produce a well-supported phylogenetic framework for the entire order. To further resolve spider evolutionary relationships we have assembled a transcriptome-based data set comprising 70 ingroup spider taxa. Using maximum likelihood and shortcut coalescence-based approaches, we analyze eight data sets, the largest of which contains 3,398 gene regions and 696,652 amino acid sites forming the largest phylogenomic analysis of spider relationships produced to date. Contrary to long held beliefs that the orb web is the crowning achievement of spider evolution, ancestral state reconstructions of web type support a phylogenetically ancient origin of the orb web, and diversification analyses show that the mostly ground-dwelling, web-less RTA clade diversified faster than orb weavers. Consistent with molecular dating estimates we report herein, this may reflect a major increase in biomass of non-flying insects during the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution 125-90 million years ago favoring diversification of spiders that feed on cursorial rather than flying prey. Our results also have major implications for our understanding of spider systematics. Phylogenomic analyses corroborate several well-accepted high level groupings: Opisthothele, Mygalomorphae, Atypoidina, Avicularoidea, Theraphosoidina, Araneomorphae, Entelegynae, Araneoidea, the RTA clade, Dionycha and the Lycosoidea. Alternatively, our results challenge the monophyly of Eresoidea, Orbiculariae, and Deinopoidea. The composition of the major paleocribellate and neocribellate clades, the basal divisions of Araneomorphae, appear to be falsified. Traditional Haplogynae is in need of revision, as our findings appear to support the newly conceived concept of Synspermiata. The sister pairing of filistatids with hypochilids implies that some peculiar features of each family may in fact be synapomorphic for the pair. Leptonetids now are seen as a possible sister group to the Entelegynae, illustrating possible intermediates in the evolution of the more complex entelegyne genitalic condition, spinning organs and respiratory organs.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Spider, Araneomorphae


gen. et sp. nov. is described from the Famennian Worange Point Formation; the holotype is amongst the largest tristichopterids and sarcopterygians documented by semi-articulated remains from the Devonian Period. The new taxon has dentary fangs and premaxillary tusks, features assumed to be derived for large Northern Hemisphere tristichopterids (, , ). It resembles in ornament, but is distinguished by longer proportions of the parietal compared to the post-parietal shield, and numerous differences in shape and proportions of other bones. Several characters (accessory vomers in the palate, submandibulars overlapping ventral jaw margin, scales ornamented with widely-spaced deep grooves) are recorded only in tristichopterids from East Gondwana (Australia-Antarctica). On this evidence gen. nov. is placed in an endemic Gondwanan subfamily Mandageriinae within the Tristichopteridae; it differs from the nominal genotype in its larger size, less pointed skull, shape of the orbits and other skull characters. The hypothesis that tristichopterids evolved in Laurussia and later dispersed into Gondwana, and a derived subgroup of large Late Devonian genera dispersed from Gondwana, is inconsistent with the evidence of the new taxon. Using oldest fossil and most primitive clade criteria the most recent phylogeny resolves South China and Gondwana as areas of origin for all tetrapodomorphs. The immediate outgroup to tristichopterids remains unresolved - either from Greenland as recently proposed, or from Gondwana, earlier suggested to be the sister group to all tristichopterids. Both taxa combine two characters that do not co-occur in other tetrapodomorphs (extratemporal bone in the skull; non-cosmoid round scales with an internal boss). Recently both ‘primitive’ and ‘derived’ tristichopterids have been discovered in the late Middle Devonian of both hemispheres, implying extensive ghost lineages within the group. Resolving their phylogeny and biogeography will depend on a comprehensive new phylogenetic analysis.

Concepts: Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Carboniferous, Devonian


Figures of phylogenetic trees are widely used to illustrate the result of evolutionary analyses. However, one cannot easily extract a machine-readable representation from such images. Therefore, new software emerges that helps to preserve phylogenies digitally for future research.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Horizontal gene transfer, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Computational phylogenetics