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Information in morphological characters
  • +2
  • Congyu Yu,
  • Qigao Jiangzuo,
  • Emanuel Tschopp,
  • Haibing Wang,
  • Mark Norell
Congyu Yu
American Museum of Natural History
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Qigao Jiangzuo
American Museum of Natural History
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Emanuel Tschopp
University of Hamburg
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Haibing Wang
Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Mark Norell
American Museum of Natural History
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Abstract

The construction of morphological character matrices is central to paleontological systematic study, which extracts paleontological information from fossils. Although the word information has been repeatedly mentioned in a wide array of paleontological systematic studies, its meaning has rarely been clarified and there has not been a standard to measure paleontological information due to the incompleteness of fossils, difficulty of recognizing homologous and homoplastic structures, etc. Here, based on information theory, we show the deep connections between paleontological systematic study and communication system engineering. It is information, the decrease of uncertainty, in morphological characters that distinguishes operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and reconstructs evolutionary history. We propose that concepts in communication system engineering such as source coding and channel coding correspond in paleontological studies to the construction of diagnostic features and the entire character matrices, which should be distinguished as how typical communication systems are engineered because these two steps serve dual purposes. With character matrices from six different vertebrate groups, we analyzed their information properties including source entropy, mutual information, and channel capacity. Estimation of channel capacity shows upper limits of all matrices in transmitting paleontological information, indicating that, due to the presence of noise, too many characters not only increase the burden in character scoring, but also may decrease quality of matrices. Information entropy, which measure how informative a variable is, of each character is tested as a weighting criterion in parsimony-based systematic studies, the results show high consistence with existing knowledge with both good resolution and interpretability.

Peer review status:ACCEPTED

26 May 2021Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
27 May 2021Submission Checks Completed
27 May 2021Assigned to Editor
04 Jun 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
04 Jun 2021Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
10 Jun 20211st Revision Received
10 Jun 2021Submission Checks Completed
10 Jun 2021Assigned to Editor
10 Jun 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
11 Jun 2021Editorial Decision: Accept