Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 441-453

First online:

The tree of life: introduction to an evolutionary debate

  • Maureen A. O’MalleyAffiliated withEgenis, University of Exeter Email author 
  • , William MartinAffiliated withInstitut für Botanik III, Heinrich-Heine-Universität
  • , John DupréAffiliated withEgenis, University of Exeter

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The ‘Tree of Life’ is intended to represent the pattern of evolutionary processes that result in bifurcating species lineages. Often justified in reference to Darwin’s discussions of trees, the Tree of Life has run up against numerous challenges especially in regard to prokaryote evolution. This special issue examines scientific, historical and philosophical aspects of debates about the Tree of Life, with the aim of turning these criticisms towards a reconstruction of prokaryote phylogeny and even some aspects of the standard evolutionary understanding of eukaryotes. These discussions have arisen out of a multidisciplinary collaboration of people with an interest in the Tree of Life, and we suggest that this sort of focused engagement enables a practical understanding of the relationships between biology, philosophy and history.


Tree of life Prokaryote evolution Phylogeny Lateral gene transfer Multidisciplinarity