Augmenting trait-dependent diversification estimations with fossil evidence: A case study using osmoregulatory neurovasculature

Haley D. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


When comparative neuromorphological studies are extended into evolutionary contexts, traits of interest are often linked to diversification patterns. Features demonstrably associated with increases in diversification rates and the infiltration or occupation of novel niche spaces are often termed "key innovations." Within the past decade, phylogenetically informed methods have been developed to test key innovation hypotheses and evaluate the influence these traits have had in shaping modern faunas. This is primarily accomplished by estimating state-dependent speciation and extinction rates. These methods have important caveats and guidelines related to both calculation and interpretation, which are necessary to understand in cases of discrete (qualitative) character analysis, as can be common when studying the evolution of neuromorphology. In such studies, inclusion of additional characters, acknowledgement of character codistribution, and addition of sister clade comparison should be explored to ensure model accuracy. Even so, phylogenies provide a survivor-only examination of character evolution, and paleontological contexts may be necessary to replicate and confirm results. Here, I review these issues in the context of selective brain cooling - a neurovascular-mediated osmoregulatory physiology that dampens hypothalamic responses to heat stress and reduces evaporative water loss in large-bodied mammals. This binary character provides an example of the interplay between sample size, evenness, and character codistribution. Moreover, it allows for an opportunity to compare phylogenetically constrained results with paleontological data, augmenting survivor-only analyses with observable extinction patterns. This trait- dependent diversification example indicates that selective brain cooling is significantly associated with the generation of modern large-mammal faunas. Importantly, paleontological data validate phylogenetic patterns and demonstrate how suites of characters worked in concert to establish the large-mammal communities of today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-157
Number of pages10
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Artiodactyla
  • BiSSE
  • Carotid rete
  • Ferungulata
  • Key innovation
  • MuSSE
  • Neurovasculature
  • Osmoregulation
  • Selective brain cooling


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