Saturday, September 8, 2012


As I said in class on Thursday, phylogenetic trees offer an hypothesis about evolutionary relationships among organisms and provide a context that can help us organize the organismal diversity we encounter.  A tree depicts patterns of shared ancestry, with more closely related organisms sharing a common ancestor more recently.  How are these trees constructed?  They rely on assessing the occurrence of shared, derived characters and rules of parsimony.
Cone snails are united in a single genus, Conus, because they share a number of derived features, most notably, a feeding structure modified as a harpoon, which the largest species can use to kill fish. 
Most snails feed using a radula, which they use for scraping prey off the substrate.  To tell which type of structure is ancestral (exhibited by the common ancestor of all snails), and which type is derived (an evolutionary innovation within snails), compare the feeding structure seen in chitons, which is not a snail, but another class of mollusks.  They have a scraping radula, which suggests that this is the ancestral feeding structure in snails as well.
To construct phylogenetic trees, many characters, including morphological, developmental, and molecular, especially DNA sequence data, are examined. 

1 comment:

Helen Hess said...

If you want another view of a fish being grotesquely consumed by a snail, narrated in German, you can go here