The kind and duration of phylogenetic topological “signatures” left in the wake of macroevolutionary events remain poorly understood. To this end, we examined a broad range of simulated phylogenies generated using trait-biased, heritable speciation probabilities and mass extinction that could be either random or selective on trait value, but also using background extinction and diversity-dependence to constrain clade sizes. In keeping with prior results, random mass extinction increased imbalance of clades that recovered to pre-extinction size, but was a relatively weak effect. Mass extinction that was selective on trait values tended to produce clades of similar or greater balance compared to random extinction or controls. Allowing evolution to continue past the point of clade-size recovery resulted in erosion and eventual erasure of this signal, with all treatments converging on similar values of imbalance, except for very intense extinction regimes targeted at taxa with high speciation rates. Return to a more balanced state with extended post-extinction evolution was also associated with loss of the previous phylogenetic root in most treatments. These results further demonstrate that while a mass extinction event can produce a recognizable phylogenetic signal, its effects become increasingly obscured the further an evolving clade gets from that event, with any sharp imbalance due to unrelated evolutionary factors.
Yang, Agapow, Yedid (2017) "The tree balance signature of mass extinction is erased by continued evolution in clades of constrained size with trait-dependent speciation" PLoS ONE 12(6): e0179553.