Translating between microevolutionary process and macroevolutionary patterns: The correlation structure of interspecific data

Thomas F. Hansen, Emília P. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

400 Scopus citations


As species evolve along a phylogenetic tree, we expect closely related species to retain some phenotypic similarities due to their shared evolutionary histories. The amount of expected similarity depends both on the hierarchical phylogenetic structure, and on the specific magnitude and types of evolutionary changes that accumulate during each generation. In this study, we show how models of microevolutionary change can be translated into the resulting macroevolutionary patterns. We illustrate how the structure of phenotypic covariances expected in interspecific measurements can be derived, and how this structure depends on the microevolutionary forces guiding phenotypic change at each generation. We then explore the covariance structure expected from several simple microevolutionary models of phenotypic evolution, including various combinations of random genetic drift, directional selection, stabilizing selection, and environmental change, as well as models of punctuated or burst-like evolution. We find that stabilizing selection leads to patterns of exponential decrease of between species covariance with phylogenetic distance. This is different from the usual linear patterns of decrease assumed in most comparative and systematic methods. Nevertheless, linear patterns of decrease can result from many processes in addition to random genetic drift, such as directional and fluctuating selection as well as modes of punctuated change. Our framework can be used to develop methods for (1) phylogenetic reconstruction; (2) inference of the evolutionary process from comparative data; and (3) conducting or evaluating statistical analyses of comparative data while taking phylogenetic history into account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1404-1417
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Comparative method
  • evolution
  • phylogenetic analysis
  • population genetics
  • quantitative genetics
  • systematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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