TimeTree of Life

I see that the TimeTree of Life project is now public.  This collaborative project draws on the research of dozens of biologists to estimate the timing of past evolutionary divergences.  The work is available as a book, but the online version has an interactive section that allows the user to name two organisms and get back the date the two last shared an ancestor.

For instance,

Ants vs. Bees: 163.5 million years ago

A word of caution, though.  While the output is extremely precise (i.e., it gives exact dates with decimal places), precision is not necessarily accuracy.  The given dates are really the midpoints across a range of estimates, and for appropriate scientific caution you’re still best off consulting the referenced papers themselves. In our insect example, the work was done by the Smithsonian Institution’s Seán Brady.

Still, it’s a fun little tool.

4 thoughts on “TimeTree of Life”

  1. Srsly, I should know better by now than peek at the basal details of trees not done by certified protistologists…

    One of the editors seems to be a bioinformatics dude, the other guy seems to be more metazoan-oriented (anyone who uses “higher eukaryotes” and worships “complexity” is almost guaranteed not to be a certified protistologist ), so while they obviously know their stuff, the branching of glaucophytes between reds and greens makes me cringe a little. The tree also makes protists seem basal, rather than extremely paraphyletic and scattered all over the place (rather, animals plants and fungi are little islands in a sea of protists). Also, microbial life tends to get grossly underrepresented in those things…

    But, my nitpicking aside, the project looks pretty awesome! (I just wish my favourite organisms got more representation out there =( )

    (Oh and when I first read Time Tree of Life, I thought that meant Time as in the magazine. “Time made a tree of life? WTF? This is gonna be fun to decimate… wait, why the hell would they make a tree of life in the first place?!”)

  2. This is very cool. Useful tool for people just wanting a quick estimate of divergence times without trawling through all available literature.

    However one should be careful what you use as search terms.

    I was confused at the date it was giving me for monotreme/marsupial divergence — then I realised Echidna may not mean what I think it means.

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