This project aims to improve the integration of data from fossil taxa into phylogenetic analyses. The specific goals that we are pursuing are to:

  • Expand the range of models available for discrete morphological data in maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic software,
  • Implement richer models for attaching fossil taxa to phylogenetic trees using the framework of fossilized birth-death process models.
  • Develop and implement models for the evolution of diagnosability of new species. These models are relevant to making probabilistic statements about the duration of “ghost lineages” and cryptic speces.
  • Implement fully Bayesian analyses of changes in diversification rates by adding models which allow speciation and extinction rates to change into software for Bayesian phylogenetic estimation.
  • Use model-averaging approaches to construct Markov chain Monte Carlo samplers that allow for the possibility that different characters are evolving in a dependent manner.

These new methods will be tested using simulated data and via analysis of large morphological datasets for trilobites.

In addition to the research goals mentioned above, we will develop two sets of online paleontology “digital labs” on trilobites and comparative analyses. One lab will focus on 6th-8th grade science students, and the second lab will be written for use in undergraduate education.

If you are so inclined, you can read the project description used in the proposal which was written in the summer of 2012 by Mark T. Holder, Bruce S. Lieberman, and Tracy A. Heath.