Thorny devil, Western Australia. Image: Pascal Title.

EEB graduate student Pascal Title captured the department’s 2016 Outstanding Paper of the Year Award for his paper published in the journal Systematic Biology. The award was recently announced at the annual EEB Spring Picnic by EEB Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil.

Title is first author of "Do Macrophylogenies Yield Stable Macroevolutionary Inferences? An Example from Squamate Reptiles," with his advisor and coauthor Professor Dan Rabosky, published Dec. 24. Squamates are snakes and reptiles.

“All of the submissions were very good, but this one especially stood out for us because it was very well written with a clear objective/hypothesis that was addressed in each part of the paper,” wrote the review committee, comprising postdoctoral fellows Diego Alvarado Serrano, Amanda Haponski  and Sara Jackrel. “We also felt that this paper showcases an important consideration in the field of evolution in regards to how researchers build their phylogenies. The choices made by researchers in how they set their parameters can result in different interpretations and different phylogenies as demonstrated by Pascal with squamate reptiles.”

“The research that went into this paper initially started with some unexpected findings that I came across when working on some empirical analyses of Australian squamate reptile diversification,” said Title. “I found that if I used different phylogenies, the patterns of diversification across different Australian groups came out to be quite different. Although some difference would be expected, the magnitude of the differences was surprising.

“This led us to pull together all available large phylogenies for squamates, as well as literature that specifically focused on the Australian groups, and to explore how congruent these datasets were in terms of the ages of various groups. We found a large amount of incongruence, and most surprisingly, a lack of correspondence between these large phylogenies, and the Australia-centric literature. 

“We showed that this incongruence can potentially lead to different results in downstream analyses, and we used this scenario to discuss the importance of quantifying uncertainty in phylogenetic inference in an absolute sense, as all of the datasets we explored at first glance appeared to be well supported. 

“The findings presented in this study have provided the motivation for some phylogenetic work I am involved with for Australian squamate reptiles, where we will strive to generate a robust, high quality phylogenomic dataset which I will use for diversification analyses,” Title added.

“Macrophylogenies offer an unprecedented opportunity to address evolutionary and ecological questions at broad phylogenetic scales, but accurately representing the uncertainty that is inherent to such analyses remains a critical challenge to our field,” the paper’s abstract states.

Each spring, EEB presents this award, worth $500, to a current graduate student. A committee of postdoctoral fellows reviews the papers and selects the most outstanding paper. Congratulations!