Indexed on: 03 Dec '11Published on: 03 Dec '11Published in: Evolution
Evolutionary biologists since Darwin have been fascinated by differences in the rate of trait-evolutionary change across lineages. Despite this continued interest, we still lack methods for identifying shifts in evolutionary rates on the growing tree of life while accommodating uncertainty in the evolutionary process. Here we introduce a Bayesian approach for identifying complex patterns in the evolution of continuous traits. The method (auteur) uses reversible-jump Markov chain Monte Carlo sampling to more fully characterize the complexity of trait evolution, considering models that range in complexity from those with a single global rate to potentially ones in which each branch in the tree has its own independent rate. This newly introduced approach performs well in recovering simulated rate shifts and simulated rates for datasets nearing the size typical for comparative phylogenetic study (i.e., ≥64 tips). Analysis of two large empirical datasets of vertebrate body size reveal overwhelming support for multiple-rate models of evolution, and we observe exceptionally high rates of body-size evolution in a group of emydid turtles relative to their evolutionary background. auteur will facilitate identification of exceptional evolutionary dynamics, essential to the study of both adaptive radiation and stasis.