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To prepare students to think about the data, assumptions, and interpretations that are part of a phylogenetic analysis. This exercise comes in five parts. The first part is all of the data â all specimens and age dates for all specimens. This simulates the impossible â a complete fossil record. The second part has 10% of the specimens randomly removed (an imperfect fossil record), but all age information is provided for the 90% given. Similarly, the third and fourth parts have 20% (different 20%s) of the data randomly removed, and all information is provided for the 80% of remaining specimens (a more imperfect fossil record). The fifth part has dates only for the modern forms â all other dates are removed. This simulates the situation for a group lacking a fossil record or a situation where the fossil record is ignored. Depending on the class size, students either individually or in groups develop a phylogeny from their data prior to class time. In class we lay everything out on tables and compare and contrast the various phylogenies and in the process discuss many of the basic assumptions, practices, biases, etc. of phylogenetic reconstruction. You could make this more complex and have students code things into MacClade, Paup, etc.; however, I use this for the concepts of phylogenetic reconstruction only.
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