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Imbalanced speciation pulses sustain the radiation of mammals

Ignacio Quintero, Nicolas Lartillot, Hélène Morlon.


The evolutionary histories of major clades, including mammals, often comprise changes in their diversification dynamics, but how these changes occur remains debated. We combined comprehensive phylogenetic and fossil information in a new "birth-death diffusion" model that provides a detailed characterization of variation in diversification rates in mammals. We found an early rising and sustained diversification scenario, wherein speciation rates increased before and during the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. The K-Pg mass extinction event filtered out more slowly speciating lineages and was followed by a subsequent slowing in speciation rates rather than rebounds. These dynamics arose from an imbalanced speciation process, with separate lineages giving rise to many, less speciation-prone descendants. Diversity seems to have been brought about by these isolated, fast-speciating lineages, rather than by a few punctuated innovations.

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Science. 2024 May 31 ;384(6699):1007-1012. doi : 10.1126/science.adj2793