Substantial variation in species ages among vertebrate clades

Marcio R Pie, Fernanda S Caron

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Ecological and evolutionary studies traditionally assume that species are comparable units of biodiversity. However, not only this assumption is rarely tested, but also there have been few attempts even to assess variation in most emergent, species-level traits and their corresponding underlying mechanisms. One such trait is species age, here defined as the time since the most recent common ancestor between a given species and its sister lineage. In this study, we demonstrate that different terrestrial vertebrate clades vary considerably in the age of their constituent species. In particular, species ages were youngest in mammals and birds as opposed to squamates and amphibians, although considerable variation was found within those clades as well. Sensitivity analyses showed that these results are unaffected by phylogenetic uncertainty or incomplete taxonomic sampling. Interestingly, there was little geographical correspondence in mean species age across taxa, as well as with temperature and precipitation stability over the past 21,000 years. We discuss candidate mechanisms that might explain differences in species ages among clades, and explore the implications of these findings in relation to recent advances in age-dependent speciation and extinction models of diversification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalEvolutionary Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Early online date29 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2023


  • diversification
  • extinction
  • reproductive isolation
  • speciation
  • species duration


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