Phylogenetic congruence, conflict and consilience between molecular and morphological data

Joseph Keating, Russell Garwood, Rob Sansom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Morphology and molecules are important data sources for estimating evolutionary relationships. Modern studies often utilise morphological and molecular partitions alongside each other in combined analyses. However, the effect of combining phenomic and genomic partitions is unclear. This is exacerbated by their size imbalance, and conflict over the efficacy of different inference methods when using morphological characters. To systematically address the effect of topological incongruence, size imbalance, and tree inference methods, we conduct a meta-analysis of 32 combined (molecular + morphology) datasets across metazoa. Our results reveal that morphological-molecular topological incongruence is pervasive: these data partitions yield very different trees, irrespective of which method is used for morphology inference. Analysis of the combined data often yields unique trees that are not sampled by either partition individually, even with the inclusion of relatively small quantities of morphological characters. Differences between morphology inference methods in terms of resolution and congruence largely relate to consensus methods. Furthermore, stepping stone Bayes factor analyses reveal that morphological and molecular partitions are not consistently combinable, i.e. data partitions are not always best explained under a single evolutionary process. In light of these results, we advise that the congruence between morphological and molecular data partitions needs to be considered in combined analyses. Nonetheless, our results reveal that, for most datasets, morphology and molecules can, and should, be combined in order to best estimate evolutionary history and reveal hidden support for novel relationships. Studies that analyse only phenomic or genomic data in isolation are unlikely to provide the full evolutionary picture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jun 2023


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