American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

Symposium: “Memory in trait macroevolution”

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Emma E. Goldberg and Jasmine Foo (Feb 2020)

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The history of a trait within a lineage may influence its future evolutionary trajectory, but macroevolutionary theory of this process is not well developed. For example, consider the simplified binary trait of living in cave versus surface habitat. The longer a species has been cave-dwelling, the more may accumulated loss of vision, pigmentation, and defense restrict future adaptation if the species encounters the surface environment. However, the Markov model of discrete trait evolution that is widely adopted in phylogenetics does not allow the rate of cave-to-surface transition to decrease with longer duration as a cave-dweller. Here, we describe three models of evolution that remove this ‘memory-less’ constraint, using a renewal process to generalize beyond the typical Poisson process of discrete trait macroevolution. We then show how the two-state renewal process can be used for inference, and we investigate the potential of phylogenetic comparative data to reveal different influences of trait duration, or ‘memory’ in trait evolution. We hope that such approaches may open new avenues for modeling trait evolution and for broad comparative tests of hypotheses that some traits become entrenched.