The Fossil Record and Evolution: Comparing Cladistic and Paleontologic Evidence for Vertebrate History

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Science  27 Mar 1992:
Vol. 255, Issue 5052, pp. 1690-1693
DOI: 10.1126/science.255.5052.1690


The fossil record offers the only direct evidence of extinct life and thus has figured prominently in considerations of evolutionary patterns. But the incomplete nature of the fossil record has also been emphasized in arguments that fossils play only a secondary role in the recovery of phylogenetic histories based on extant taxa. Although these criticisms recently have been countered, there is no general understanding of the correspondence between the fossil record and phylogeny. An empirical survey of recently published studies suggests no basis for assuming that the stratigraphic occurrence of fossils always provides a precise reflection of phylogeny. Nevertheless, our survey of a sample of taxa shows a tendency for positive correlation between age and clade rank and, hence, a degree of correspondence between phylogenetic pattern and the paleontologic record.