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Question: What are the most exciting recent developments in systematics?
I think there are three. First, there are second-order statistical analyses that can now be applied across a sample of trees from a Bayesian posterior distribution. These include biogeography, comparative methods, and macroevolutionary tests. We used to have to rely on a single tree for our analyses; now we can do the same analyses accounting for phylogenetic uncertainty by sampling from the posterior distribution of trees.
Second, the explicit accommodation of incongruence in analyses of multilocus data through the use of the coalescent. I think it will be really cool when we can use these approaches to differentiate between incongruence caused by coalescent stochasticity from that caused by nonvertical transmission such as horizontal gene transfer or hybridization.
Third, the development of phylogenomics. I remember a symposium debate at the Evolution meetings when I was a graduate student in the early 1990s. The debate was about total evidence approaches versus other methods. During the debate, someone raised the question of, “If we could sequence every single nucleotide in the genome, would we then get the best possible estimate of the phylogeny?” I think that emerging datasets demonstrate that the answer to this question might be, “not necessarily.”
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