Research paper by Michael J MJ Sanderson, Michael J MJ Donoghue

Indexed on: 01 Dec '89Published on: 01 Dec '89Published in: Evolution


Patterns of variation in levels of homoplasy were explored through statistical analyses of standardized consistency indexes. Data were obtained from 60 recent cladistic analyses of a wide variety of organisms based on several different kinds of characters. Consistency index is highly correlated with the number of taxa included in an analysis, with homoplasy increasing as the number of taxa increases. This observation is compatible with a simple model of character evolution in which 1) the probability of character-state change increases with the total number of branches in a tree and 2) the number of possible states of a character is limited. Consistency index does not show a significant relationship to the number of characters utilized in an analysis or to the taxonomic rank of the terminal taxa. When the relationship between consistency index and number of taxa is taken into account, there is no significant difference between plant and animal data sets in the amount of homoplasy. Likewise, the level of homoplasy in morphological and molecular data sets does not appear to differ significantly, although there are still too few molecular studies to be confident of this result. Future comparisons of consistency indexes, including studies along the lines established here, must take into account the influence of the number of taxa on homoplasy.