When can clades be potentially resolved with morphology?
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Morphology-based phylogenetic analyses are the only option for reconstructing relationships among extinct lineages, but often find support for conflicting hypotheses of relationships. The resulting lack of phylogenetic resolution is generally explained in terms of data quality and methodological issues, such as character selection. A previous suggestion is that sampling ancestral morphotaxa or sampling multiple taxa descended from a long-lived, unchanging lineage can also yield clades which have no opportunity to share synapomorphies. This lack of character information leads to a lack of 'intrinsic' resolution, an issue that cannot be solved with additional morphological data. It is unclear how often we should expect clades to be intrinsically resolvable in realistic circumstances, as intrinsic resolution must increase as taxonomic sampling decreases. Using branching simulations, I quantify intrinsic resolution across several models of morphological differentiation and taxonomic sampling. Intrinsically unresolvable clades are found to be relatively frequent in simulations of both extinct and living taxa under realistic sampling scenarios, implying that intrinsic resolution is an issue for morphology-based analyses of phylogeny. Simulations which vary the rates of sampling and differentiation were tested for their agreement to observed distributions of durations from well-sampled fossil records and also having high intrinsic resolution. This combination only occurs in those datasets when differentiation and sampling rates are both unrealistically high relative to branching and extinction rates. Thus, the poor phylogenetic resolution occasionally observed in morphological phylogenetics may result from a lack of intrinsic resolvability within groups.
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