Skip to main content
No Access

Assessing Concordance of Fossil Calibration Points in Molecular Clock Studies: An Example Using Turtles

1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996‐1610;2. Natural Sciences, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida 33711;3. Section of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, California 95616

Although still controversial, estimation of divergence times using molecular data has emerged as a powerful tool to examine the tempo and mode of evolutionary change. Two primary obstacles in improving the accuracy of molecular dating are heterogeneity in DNA substitution rates and accuracy of the fossil record as calibration points. Recent methodological advances have provided powerful methods that estimate relative divergence times in the face of heterogeneity of nucleotide substitution rates among lineages. However, relatively little attention has focused on the accuracy of fossil calibration points that allow one to translate relative divergence times into absolute time. We present a new cross‐validation method that identifies inconsistent fossils when multiple fossil calibrations are available for a clade and apply our method to a molecular phylogeny of living turtles with fossil calibration times for 17 of the 22 internal nodes in the tree. Our cross‐validation procedure identified seven inconsistent fossils. Using the consistent fossils as calibration points, we found that despite their overall antiquity as a lineage, the most species‐rich clades of turtles diversified well within the Cenozoic. Many of the truly ancient lineages of turtles are currently represented by a few, often endangered species that deserve high priority as conservation targets.