Molecular Distance and Divergence Time in Carnivores and Primates
Molecular Biology and Evolution
Numerous studies have used indices of genetic distance between species to reconstruct evolutionary relationships and to estimate divergence time. However, the empirical relationship between molecular-based indices of genetic divergence and divergence time based on the fossil record is poorly known. To date, the results of empirical studies conflict and are difficult to compare because they differ widely in their choice of taxa, genetic techniques, or methods for calibrating rates of molecular evolution. We use a single methodology to analyze the relationship of molecular distance and divergence time in 86 taxa (72 carnivores and 14 primates). These taxa have divergence times of 0.01-55 Myr and provide a graded series of phylogenetic divergences such that the shape of the curve relating genetic distance and divergence time is often well defined. The techniques used to obtain genetic distance estimates include one- and two-dimensional protein electrophoresis, DNA hybridization, and microcomplement fixation. Our results suggest that estimates of molecular distance and divergence time are highly correlated. However, rates of molecular evolution are not constant; rather, in general they decline with increasing divergence time in a linear fashion. The rate of decline may differ according to technique and taxa. Moreover, in some cases the variability in evolutionary rates changes with increasing divergence time such that the accuracy of nodes in a phylogenetic tree varies predictably with time.
Wayne, R. K.; B. Van Valkenburgh; and Stephen J. O'Brien. 1991. "Molecular Distance and Divergence Time in Carnivores and Primates." Molecular Biology and Evolution 8, (3): 297-319. http://nsuworks.nova.edu/cnso_bio_facarticles/296