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Sun, M., R. A. Folk, M. A. Gitzendanner, P. S. Soltis, Z. Chen, D. E. Soltis, and R. P. Guralnick. 2020. Estimating rates and patterns of diversification with incomplete sampling: a case study in the rosids. American Journal of Botany 107:895–909. [View on Publisher’s Site]


Recent advances in generating large‐scale phylogenies enable broad‐scale estimation of species diversification. These now common approaches typically are characterized by (1) incomplete species coverage without explicit sampling methodologies and/or (2) sparse backbone representation, and usually rely on presumed phylogenetic placements to account for species without molecular data. We used empirical examples to examine the effects of incomplete sampling on diversification estimation and provide constructive suggestions to ecologists and evolutionary biologists based on those results.


We used a supermatrix for rosids and one well‐sampled subclade (Cucurbitaceae) as empirical case studies. We compared results using these large phylogenies with those based on a previously inferred, smaller supermatrix and on a synthetic tree resource with complete taxonomic coverage. Finally, we simulated random and representative taxon sampling and explored the impact of sampling on three commonly used methods, both parametric (RPANDA and BAMM) and semiparametric (DR).


We found that the impact of sampling on diversification estimates was idiosyncratic and often strong. Compared to full empirical sampling, representative and random sampling schemes either depressed or inflated speciation rates, depending on methods and sampling schemes. No method was entirely robust to poor sampling, but BAMM was least sensitive to moderate levels of missing taxa.


We suggest caution against uncritical modeling of missing taxa using taxonomic data for poorly sampled trees and in the use of summary backbone trees and other data sets with high representative bias, and we stress the importance of explicit sampling methodologies in macroevolutionary studies.


Also see the Florida Museum’s press release on this paper: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/plant-study-challenges-tropics-evolutionary-reputation/