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Although current molecular clock methods offer greater flexibility in modelling evolutionary events, calibration of the clock with dates from the fossil record is still problematic for many groups.
Here we implement several new approaches in molecular dating to estimate the evolutionary ages of Lacertidae, an Old World family of lizards with a poor fossil record and uncertain phylogeny.
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Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution provided an explanation of why macromolecules might be evolving in a clock-like fashion.
That is, differences between sequences would accumulate in a linear fashion.
In addition, they suggested that this uniform rate of a specific protein would be approximately constant, not just over evolutionary time, but also across different lineages or taxonomic groups.
Our results emphasize the sensitivity of molecular divergence dates to fossil calibrations, and support the use of combined molecular data sets and multiple, well-spaced dates from the fossil record as minimum node constraints.
The bioinformatics program used here, Tree Time, is publicly available, and we recommend its use for molecular dating of taxa faced with similar challenges.