N. Brocklehurst wrote,
“I think your repeated assertion that palaeontologists don’t test the relationships you suggest is a bit…well its just not true. Admittedly some havn’t been tested e.g. Tetraceratops (never tested outside synapsids), but a great many have. As just one example Hill (2005) uses a (mostly) genus-level taxon list which covers 80 taxa from almost all the major groups in Amniota with charater list almost 3 times the size of yours to show that Caseids do not go with Milleretids and Bolosaurids, Rhynchosaurs do not go with Rhynchocephalians, Ophiacodontids are not the sister to Therapsids, Synapsids do not go with Archosaurs, Captorhinids do not go with Lepidosaurs, Mesosaurids do not go with marine reptiles…I could go on.”
This is a topic worthy of a post. Coincidentally and several years ago I had studied Hill (2005) and submitted a manuscript describing its faults. It was rejected.
What Hill (2005) was looking for and how he did it
Hill (2005) sought to determine the phylogenetic position of turtles within the Amniota by increasing taxonomic sampling and including integumentary characters, like scutes on glyptodons and sauropods. Strange, mixing such taxa, only because they had scutes. But it was published, so hats off to Hill.
As in all supermatrices, no effort was made by Hill to cull the data or study the taxa. The data was presented ‘as is.’ Hill (2005) reported, “The morphological data set assembled here represents the largest yet compiled for Amniota.” He concluded with, “Turtles are here resolved as the sister taxon to a monophyletic Lepidosauria (squamates + Sphenodon), a novel phylogenetic position that nevertheless is consistent with recent molecular and morphological studies that have hypothesized diapsid affinities for this clade.”
I tested Hill (2005) back in 2006 (long before ReptileEvolution.com) in a three-step process.
1. Taking Hill (2005) as is.
Hill 2005 created a supermatrix by combining published data and new data based on osteology and histology of the integument. Some strange pairings resulted (Fig. 1). Bulky Diadectomorpha nested as sisters to lithe marine Mesosauridae and as sister taxa to the Synapsida. None of these look very much alike. Round-faced Acleistorhinus nested with flat-faced Lanthanosuchus. Short-faced Trilophosaurus nested with long-faced Choristodera (Champsosaurus). The so-called ‘rib’ gliders nested with marine Sauropterygia. Turtles nest with Sphenodon and both are the sister taxa to Archosauria (dinos + crocs + parasuchia + aetosaurs). Parasuchians nest within aetosaurs. Aetosaurs nest within crocodylomorphs, derived from Protosuchus. Other than these misfits, the rest ain’t too bad. And we can’t blame Hill for this because, true to the method, he was just pulling together published trees (but without casting a critical eye on the data).
To one of Neil Brocklehurst points, note the sphenacodonts and basal therapsids are suprageneric in Hill (2005), so there was the opportunity for some cherry-picking of traits and key taxa. Stenocybus. a key taxon, was not included.
2. Hill 2005 revision #1
A thorough examination of Hill’s data matrix revealed that hundreds of blank matrix boxes could be scored. Hundreds of others could be more accurately rescored, sometimes with additional character states to more accurately reflect characters. Since this was a supertree compilation, such a critical eye was not part of Hill’s process or method. I don’t like to let things slide.
Taxa that were difficult to access and contributed to excess polytomies using Hill’s scoring, such as Coahomasuchus, the titanosaur sauropods, Glyptosaurinae, Akanthosuchus, Goniopholis, Simosuchus and Mahajangasuchus were deleted. None of these taxa are basal to their respective clades.
Characters that were difficult to determine (foramina, braincase, notochordal opening) were left as Hill’s predecessors had scored them.
The resulting cladogram (Fig. 2) shows more appropriate tree topology with most clades in a more reasonable (more parsimonious) order (sister taxa look more alike overall and in detail), but pareiasaurs and turtles still nest here between lizards and Crurotarsi, which appears untenable.
3. Hill 2005 revision #2
The addition of a just few taxa (in red) to Hill (2005) revision #1 (Fig. 3) recovers a tree topology very much like the large reptile tree, including the major dichotomy at the base of the Reptilia (a hypothesis totally unknown to Hill in 2005). This underscores the importance of a wide gamut in a taxon list when exploring untested relationships. Here turtles nest with pareiasaurs, Procolophon and other lepidosauromorphs. Casea nests with Millerettidae, far from the Synapsida. Kuehneosaurus nests with similarly-shaped arboreal Lepidosauriformes. Synapsids and mesosaurs nest with sauropterygians and archosauriforms.
It’s worthy to note that
the large reptile tree does not include any glyptodonts, derived crocodylomorphs or very many ornamented lizards. Instead the large reptile tree used more basal taxa to establish a wider gamut of relationships, leaving the above-mentioned highly derived taxa for other more focused studies.
It is also worthy to note that
even with so few taxa, and largely using Hill’s characters, the reptile tree dichotomy was recovered.
To Neil’s point about the Hill (2005) 3x larger character list
Once again: It’s the taxon list (not the number of characters) that needs to expand to figure out the amniote tree topology. As an example, see what just a few extra taxa can do to a tree? (Fig. 3). Any number of characters over 150 tends to flatten out the results from 95% consistency to 98% to 98.5% to 99.1%, never quite reaching, but very closely approaching 100%. On the other hand, every additional taxon provides an additional opportunity for any already included taxon to find a more parimonious partner somewhere on the tree. The larger the list, the better.
No. I tested that sucker. This is evidence.
As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.
Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.
Hill RV 2005. Integration of Morphological Data Sets for Phylogenetic Analysis of Amniota: The Importance of Integumentary Characters and Increased Taxonomic Sampling. Systematic Biology 54(4):530–547.