3-D Evolutionary Bush?

19 03 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot about cladograms, phylogenetic trees, and the overall concept of Darwin’s “Tree of Life” as of late, and to tell you the truth I don’t think any of the current ways of illustrating evolutionary change is particularly grand. While the trees I would see in various books in my you would generally by lines or blobs moving up the Y axis, usually punctuated at their terminus with a representative of that group (i.e. a raccoon for mammals), but this is far from scientific. When looking at cladograms and phylogenetic trees, however, I often feel that the concept of time is lost and things generally look pretty orderly and tidy; good for organization, but not exactly how I envision evolution. In fact, sometimes I find it hard to follow phylogenetic trees and cladograms, and while I have not yet studied either in depth or had to construct my own, I can’t help but think there has to be a better way to illustrate evolutionary lineages.

I would absolutely love to suggest an alternate way to diagram evolution, but I’m afraid I haven’t come up with an alternative. Mulling over the issue, however, it seems to me that 2 dimensions restrains our ability to illustrate evolution, the evolutionary “bush” having far too many branches to fit in an orderly fashion on a page. What I would find interesting and even effective in teaching others about evolution would be a 3-dimensional evolutionary bush, users being able to manipulate it to look at different angles and focus in and out on different branches. The primary problem, however, is this; evolutionary lineages are a hellish tangle of various branches, many of which we have yet to connect. How anyone could construct a working 3D model of such I thing, I have to idea. Even so, I can’t help but think that our current methods of plotting species onto diagrams isn’t exactly optimal, and perhaps more communication between those who deal with genetics and those who deal with morphology could result in an integrated model, making it (hopefully) more accurate. Perhaps someday we’ll have a better way to overcome the ensnaring branches of the evolutionary bush, but until then I’ll try my best to understand methods already in place.


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