TimeTree’s New Look At Evolution — And It’s Free!

By Gemma Tarlach | April 6, 2017 4:00 pm
Depictions of the tree of life have come a long way since this 17th century Russian take on it. (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Depictions of the “tree of life” have come a long way — and changed in meaning — since this 17th century Russian take on it. (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Who doesn’t love free stuff? I know I do. And a renovation of open access evolution database TimeTree is a treasure chest of data for the taking.

The idea of a tree of life has been an element across many cultures for millennia, but since the days of Darwin it’s become a handy way to visualize how species diverge from common ancestors over time.

TimeTree, a self-described “public knowledge-base” about the evolutionary timeline for life on Earth, has been around for seven years. It’s the product of Temple University researchers who wanted to gather nerdy data from thousands of studies using DNA and number-crunching calculations of the rate of speciation, then translate all that into a user-friendly way of looking at life on Earth and how it has evolved.

TimeTree has already incorporated data from more than 3,000 peer-reviewed, published studies; the team continues to add research to refine and expand the database — oops, excuse me, knowledge-base.

Today TT gets a makeover, adding new features to make it easier and faster for anyone to answer such burning questions as “when was the last common ancestor of my dog and a T. rex?”

Not a T. rex.

Don’t let the illusion of bipedalism and tiny arms fool you. Not a T. rex.

Answer: an estimated 312 million years ago, based on 22 studies from the database with information relevant to the query. You can view the studies’ citations and download them for later use. You can also download a .jpg file that shows you from eon to age the chronological focus of the different studies used to estimate time of divergence (the gray-black dots below).

(Credit TimeTree/Temple Univeristy and too much time on my hands)

(Credit TimeTree and too much time on my hands)

That’s just for starters. Your custom TT chart includes a lot of other information. From left to right on the image above, you’ve got level of solar intensity (red), carbon dioxide levels (orange), oxygen levels (yellow) and my personal favorite, the estimated time and size of major space rock impacts.

But Wait, There’s More…

The niftiest new features include the ability to build a customizable tree of a group of species and also create a timeline of a single genus or species.

The timeline for the evolution of the genus Canis, which includes my dogs and yours as well as wolves, jackals, coyotes and such. (Credit TimeTree)

The timeline for the evolution of the genus Canis, which includes my dogs and yours as well as wolves, jackals, coyotes and such. (Credit TimeTree)

Try it out for yourself…what do you have to lose, other than all the time you’re going to spend playing around with it.

(By the way, if you’re not up on your geologic time abbreviations, get thee to the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s page for downloading its frequently updated chronostratigraphic chart. You’re welcome.)



CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Who doesn’t love free stuff?” The most expensive things in the world are given to you for “free” by government (bribing you with your own money). That said, nice (other than the Earth having been created on Sunday 23 October 4004 BC);

    The time line definitively shows the sun will incinerate the Earth, we will all suffocate as a natural matter of course, and Earth will suffer an impact mass extinction. Start hoarding ice, inflating storage balloons, and buy a stout patio umbrella.

    • Erik Bosma

      Forgot that bunker!!

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  • stillnotregistering

    an online database and everything

    evolution must be true

    • Gabbleduck

      Nah, that’d be the millions of bits of evidence and data points, from numerous scientific disciplines that all overlap and support each other, that show evolution to be true.

      • stillnotregistering

        evolution can’t be shown to be true, because it’s laughingly flase
        it can only be lied about

        • MikeT

          Well, one thing is certainly true” stillnotregistering is lying about evolution.

      • stillnotregistering

        ‘Can you tell me anything about evolution, any one thing that is true?’ -Colin Patterson

        Well, can YOU gabbleduck??? For example, can you trace the lineage of the bat? Any species?

        No you cannot.

        Can you explain how reproduction “evolved” from single cell to sexual?

        No you cannot.

        Lather, Rinse, Repeat

        • Gabbleduck

          It’s always easy to tell when someone only gets their information from creationist literature, because they always try to argue against points that are either dead wrong or straw man arguments of what evolution says.

          You’d do yourself a favour, Still, by actually learning something about the subject you want to argue against. You can’t successfully argue against another person’s view unless you actually understand it.

          Did you pick bats because you though you had a zinger there? Read somewhere that we don’t have a great fossil record for bats or transitional species? The way fossils form, we probably will never find fossils for more than a very small percentage of the species that ever lived. Doesn’t matter. From the around 200 MILLION large fossils and around 5 times that of small fossils we currently do have, we have transitional forms for many, many clades. Do you somehow think not having fossils for bats negates the rest of the evidence for evolution? Again, you should try to understand the actual science behind evolution, not some straw man idea of it presented by creationists. Sorry to have to tell you your “zinger” just fizzled.

          Apart from that, even if we didn’t have a single fossil, the genetic evidence for evolution is now overwhelming. From just the genetic evidence we can identify not just which species have common ancestors (they all do if you go far enough back), but from the rates of mutation of many different areas in the genome we can identify with good accuracy just how far back that ancestor was. And guess what? The fossil record that we do have confirms, independently, those findings.

          See, evolution isn’t just some fossils and people guessing where they should go in time. Evolution is supported by a vast, overlapping body of evidence from many scientific disciplines. Genetics, fossils, geology, radiometric dating, astronomy, medicine, biology, virology, and more, all the evidence from these disparate fields all confirms the evidence from all the others. Evolution isn’t just the best, it’s the only theory we have that ties in all that evidence together to explain the current diversity of life on earth. And all the predictions that have been made about evolution as our understanding improved have been shown to be correct as science has progressed.

          There are plenty of links to the evidence to answer your above questions, but having dealt with creationists for 20 years plus, I’m not going to link them. You aren’t interested in an answer to how sexual reproduction evolved vacuase you’ve already said you don’t believe there is one, so I know you aren’t going to look at any link to science I could post.

          What you will do is go back to the creationist echo chamber and believe the lies they are feeding you about evolution. I don’t think you are knowingly lying, I just think you believe the lies you’ve been told are actually true.

          It always makes me wonder why creationist head honchos have to make up these straw man ideas about evolution. If they are so sure their ideas are right, why can’t they present actual evolution to their followers and then say “here, now here is how it is wrong”. Nope, first they have to distort evolution so that the answers they have can now fit the distorted version.

          I’ll challenge you, Still. Go and read Jerry Coynes book “Why evolution is true”. It’s available free and will be near the top of Google search if you search the title. Read that, then come back with some arguments against actual evolutionary theory, which after reading that book you will understand the actual details of an evidence for evolution. Will you read it?

          I’ve read dozens of creationist books and check the more well known creationist web sites out at least fortnightly to see if they’ve come up with an argument against actual evolution. That’s how I know they lie so much. And almost never present any evidence for their claims, just try show how evolution is wrong. Well, their fake version of it anyway.

          Get back to me when you have read that book.

        • MikeT

          stillnotregistering is a victim of a lying weasel who’s fooled him into thinking Colin Patterson was anti-evolution. That’s a lie. Of course, I doubt stillnotregistering knows anything at all about Patterson. For instance, I doubt stillnotregistering knows that Patterson began one of his books with “The modern theory of evolutions is the basis of biological science.” The name of that book? “Evolution”, which I have in hand as I write.

          stillnotregistering is hardly the only poor, deluded creationist who’s peddled the lie about Patterson. They know he can’t expose their lie because he’s dead.

          I’ll add, as anyone who understands science already knows but stillnotregistering does not, that science does not proceed by authority, so even if Colin Patterson had been against evolution, it would hardly matter. Evolution is established by evidence (such as the use of evolutionary theory to predict where to look for tetrapod ancestors which resulted in the discovery of Tiktaalik), not by some guy saying something.

          BTW, bragging that more than a hundred years of evidence and reason hasn’t registered on you is not exactly the mark of a keen mind.

          • stillnotregistering

            there is no evidence for evolution … not the evolution that says one species can evolve into another, and all species have come about like that … it’s pure fantasy that grows more ridiculous with each new biological discovery … evolution is the SCIENCE of conjecture … nothing more … it’s so laughable on its face it’s hard to believe it’s acceptance is so universal … they say the biggest lies are the easiest to sell … btw, i am NOT a creationist, i just know pseudoscience when i see it … i may not know how life began, but even a child can see that it wasn’t lightning striking mud, etc. … it takes far more FAITH to believe in evolution’s “miracles” than it does any other kind …

          • stillnotregistering

            “hundred years of evidence” but you cannot answer the simple questions, trace the lineage of a single species? how did reproduction go from single cell to sexual? here’s another, where are the one-eyed fossils? binocular vision was the start, skipping monocular? yeah, right … and how many times did binocular vision evolve for different species, you know, by sheer dumb luck and MUTATIONS … still lmao


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