The Timetree of Life

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The evolutionary history of life includes two primary components: phylogeny and timescale. Phylogeny refers to the branching order (relationships) of species or other taxa within a group and is crucial for understanding the inheritance of traits and for erecting classifications. However, a timescale is equally important because it provides a way to compare phylogeny directly with the evolution of other organisms and with planetary history such as geology, climate, extraterrestrial impacts, and other features.

The Timetree of Life is the first reference book to synthesize the wealth of information relating to the temporal component of phylogenetic trees. In the past, biologists have relied exclusively upon the fossil record to infer an evolutionary timescale. However, recent revolutionary advances in molecular biology have made it possible to not only estimate the relationships of many groups of organisms, but also to estimate their times of divergence with molecular clocks. The routine estimation and utilization of these so-called 'time-trees' could add exciting new dimensions to biology including enhanced opportunities to integrate large molecular data sets with fossil and biogeographic evidence (and thereby foster greater communication between molecular and traditional systematists). They could help estimate not only ancestral character states but also evolutionary rates in numerous categories of organismal phenotype; establish more reliable associations between causal historical processes and biological outcomes; develop a universally standardized scheme for biological classifications; and generally promote novel avenues of thought in many arenas of comparative evolutionary biology.

This authoritative reference work brings together, for the first time, experts on all major groups of organisms to assemble a timetree of life. The result is a comprehensive resource on evolutionary history which will be an indispensable reference for scientists, educators, and students in the life sciences, earth sciences, and molecular biology. For each major group of organism, a representative is illustrated and a timetree of families and higher taxonomic groups is shown. Basic aspects of the evolutionary history of the group, the fossil record, and competing hypotheses of relationships are discussed. Details of the divergence times are presented for each node in the timetree, and primary literature references are included. The book is complemented by an online database ( which allows researchers to both deposit and retrieve data.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The volume and the online resource will prove invaluable to researchers interested in the phylogeny and divergence times of particular species groups, and indeed to anyone interested in evolutionary biology."--Quarterly Review of Biology

"The new book offers an impressive compilation of evolutionary history, including the relationships among organisms and their times of divergence, which together form a timetree of life."--Integrative & Comparative Biology

"A timely compliation of the data currently available and is therefore a unique resource for anyone interested in evolutionary biology in the broad sense."--Systematic Biology

"Over a hundred authors, including molecular phylogeneticists, systematists, and paleontologists, contributed to The Timetree of Life, which its editors say is the first volume to publish calibrated divergence times against phylogenies for all major groups of living things. The results are truly impressive reviews of the histories and current determinations of when the major groups of living things diverged from each other."--Reports of the National Center for Science Education"

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199535033
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/20/2009
  • Pages: 572
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

S. Blair Hedges is Professor of Biology at Pennsylvania State University. His research explores the connections between biological evolution and Earth history in diverse groups of organisms and time periods.

Sudhir Kumar is Professor of Life Sciences and Director of the Center for Evolutionary Functional Genomics at Arizona State University. His research interests are in molecular evolution and bioinformatics.

Books by the same author:
Molecular Evolution and Phylogenetics |a Masatoshi Nei and Sudhir Kumar

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Table of Contents

Foreword Preface
1. Discovering the timetree of life
2. Timetrees: beyond cladograms, phenograms, and phylograms
3. The geologic time scale
4. Calibrating and constraining the molecular clock
5. Life
6. Archaebacteria
7. Eubacteria
8. Eukaryotes i. Protists ii. Plants iii. Fungi iv. Animals Index

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