Phylogenetic Comparative Methods : process through pattern ?

This fall 2017, the annual meeting of the SFS (Société Française de Systématique) will be devoted to a significant field of evolutionary biology: phylogenetic comparative methods (PCM).

This « catch-all » term usually refers to ‘the analytical study of species, populations, and individuals in a historical framework with the aim to elucidate the mechanisms at the origin of the diversity of life’ (Paradis, 2014). ‘Historical’, in an evolutionary framework, obviously refers to phylogenetic relationships. As a result, these methods are fundamentally linked to phylogenetic systematics, and therefore are integrant parts of the SFS’ main thematics.

PCM were originally developed in the 1980s, largely through the influence of Felsenstein’s (1985) seminal paper, and group together various methods and subfields that include phylogenetic trees as a core basis : inference of ancestral states, estimation the different signals present in those attributes (phylogenetics, functional, structural…), adaptation studies, niche phylogenetic conservatism, diversification rates and key innovations, evolutionary rates, node- and tip-dating, phylogeography, cospeciation, etc. (Harvey and Pagel, 1991; Blomberg and Garland, 2002; Desdevises et al., 2003; Garamszegi, 2014).

Although their use has known a significant increase during the last decade, PCM have only benefited from limited communication in France. Previous meetings of the SFS were usually devoted to discussions on phylogenetic reconstruction and taxonomy (i.e. Biosystema 1, 4, 11, 22), even though the 2012 meeting (« Systematic beyond Phylogenetics ») included many communications on PCM. This year, the SFS has decided to dedicate the whole meeting to PCM, following three main axes:

(1) With its origin in statistics, the « language » of PCM may appear unintelligible to non-specialists. An introductive session, along with a workshop (on the last day), will be set on.

(2) The second session will focus on developpements of the discpline and its empirical applications. Various presentations will be devoted to the implementation of PCM in palaeontology, which has become almost mandatory in some methods (i.e. dating, inference of ancestral states – e.g. Bapst, 2014; Benton, 2015).

(3) Finally, the last two sessions will be devoted to free subjects on more classical thematics : "Palaoontology and Compared Anatomy" and "Molecular Systematics"

The meeting will be held at the Observatoire Océanologique of Banyuls (UPMC/CNRS), where Yves Desdevises, professor at UPMC and pioneer of PCM in France, is based. The location is also close to the University of Montpellier, where these methods have been developed for several years, especially at the ISEM lab.

Finally, the meeting will be traditionally concluded by the annual assembly meeting of the SFS and the presentation of the Jacques Lebbe award.


We look forward to meeting you there!

Paul Zaharias & Lucas Legendre


Reference :
Bapst DW. 2014. Assessing the effect of time-scaling methods on phylogeny-based analyses in the fossil record. Paleobiology 40: 331-351.
Benton MJ. 2015. Exploring macroevolution using modern and fossil data. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20150569.
Blomberg SP & Garland T. 2002. Tempo and mode in evolution: phylogenetic inertia, adaptation and comparative methods. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15: 899-910.
Desdevises Y, Legendre P, Azouzi L, et al. 2003. Quantifying phylogenetically structured environmental variation. Evolution 57: 2647-2652.
Felsenstein J. 1985. Phylogenies and the Comparative Method. The American Naturalist 125: 1-15.
Garamszegi LZ. 2014. Modern Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and Their Application in Evolutionary Biology. Berlin: Springer.
Harvey PH, Pagel MD. 1991. The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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