The shape of mammalian phylogeny: patterns, processes and scales

Mammalian phylogeny is far too asymmetric for all contemporaneous lineages to have had equal chances of diversifying. We consider this asymmetry or imbalance from four perspectives. First, we infer a minimal set of `regime changes'-points at which net diversification rate has changed-identifying 15 significant radiations and 12 clades that may be `downshifts'. We next show that mammalian phylogeny is similar in shape to a large set of published phylogenies of other vertebrate, arthropod and plant groups, suggesting that many clades may diversify under a largely shared set of `rules'. Third, we simulate six simple macroevolutionary models, showing that those where speciation slows down as geographical or niche space is filled, produce more realistic phylogenies than do models involving key innovations. Lastly, an analysis of the spatial scaling of imbalance shows that the phylogeny of species within an assemblage, ecoregion or larger area always tends to be more unbalanced than expected from the phylogeny of species at the next more inclusive spatial scale. We conclude with a verbal model of mammalian macroevolution, which emphasizes the importance to diversification of accessing new regions of geographical or niche space.