ARTICLE: “Darwin’s two competing phylogenetic trees: marsupials as ancestors or sister taxa?”

In Archives of Natural History:

Darwin’s two competing phylogenetic trees: marsupials as ancestors or sister taxa?

J. David Archibald

Abstract Studies of the origin and diversification of major groups of plants and animals are contentious topics in current evolutionary biology. This includes the study of the timing and relationships of the two major clades of extant mammals – marsupials and placentals. Molecular studies concerned with marsupial and placental origin and diversification can be at odds with the fossil record. Such studies are, however, not a recent phenomenon. Over 150 years ago Charles Darwin weighed two alternative views on the origin of marsupials and placentals. Less than a year after the publication of On the origin of species, Darwin outlined these in a letter to Charles Lyell dated 23 September 1860. The letter concluded with two competing phylogenetic diagrams. One showed marsupials as ancestral to both living marsupials and placentals, whereas the other showed a non-marsupial, non-placental as being ancestral to both living marsupials and placentals. These two diagrams are published here for the first time. These are the only such competing phylogenetic diagrams that Darwin is known to have produced. In addition to examining the question of mammalian origins in this letter and in other manuscript notes discussed here, Darwin confronted the broader issue as to whether major groups of animals had a single origin (monophyly) or were the result of “continuous creation” as advocated for some groups by Richard Owen. Charles Lyell had held similar views to those of Owen, but it is clear from correspondence with Darwin that he was beginning to accept the idea of monophyly of major groups.

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