Phylogenetic Systematics and the Early History of Mammals

  • Timothy Rowe


Numerous recent authors have used phylogenetic systematics to study mammalian evolution. As a result, there have been many fundamental changes in our view of early mammalian history compared with the view of a decade ago. However, even phylogenetic analyses have produced conflicting interpretations of this history. On closer inspection, many of the conflicts may simply reflect the different samples of taxa and characters that have been brought to bear on this issue. In a series of computer parsimony analyses, different rates of evolution in the dentition, skull, and postcranium were responsible for different tree topologies that resulted when different, restricted character samples were analyzed. When sampling artifact is removed and all available character data analyzed, a highly corroborated, stable phylogeny remains, which is largely consistent with the temporal distributions of taxa recorded in the fossil record. Several patterns dominate this phylogeny. Most transformations in the head involved elaborate repackaging of an expanded brain and special sense organs, remodeling of the masticatory system, and accelerated evolution of a highly complex dentition. Postcranial evolution involved differentiation of the vertebral column and remodeling of the limbs and girdles, associated with parasagittal gait. Another pattern involved evolutionary miniaturization similar in detail to historical patterns in other miniaturized tetrapod lineages, suggesting the existence of developmental constraints common to all tetrapods. Although some of these patterns have long been recognized, others have become evident only as the effects of rate and sampling in phylogenetic analyses have become more fully understood.


Fossil Record Sister Taxon Early Jurassic Extant Taxon Wear Facet 
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© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Rowe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geological Sciences and Vertebrate Paleontology LaboratoryThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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