MRE Symonds (2005) Phylogeny and life histories of the ‘Insectivora’: controversies and consequences. Biological Reviews 80: 93-128.

What is it about?

It’s a review of the numerous hypotheses that have been put forward resolving phylogenetic relationships in the Insectivora (actually no longer a true grouping of mammals). The second part of the paper investigated how using these competing hypotheses can change inference about some life-history evolution questions, including links between brain size and ecology, maternal energy transfer and differences in gestation length.

What’s the story behind it?

At some stage in 1999, as I was finishing (or planning to finish) my PhD, William Foster, editor-in-chief on Biological Reviews asked at a morning tea break in the Department of Zoology in Cambridge, if anyone had a good idea for a review for the journal. As I had done a pretty substantial review of the phylogeny of this group, I suggested it and he happily asked me to write something. I even have a formal letter somewhere suggested that I complete the review by mid-2000. Cut to 2004, when I finally decided to actually write it up – the last major paper from my PhD thesis. Rather embarrassed I wrote to William and asked whether he would still like me to submit the paper. His reply was “Of course, your delay is quite modest by most of our authors’ standards!”. So, it’s always worth following up these things. Even if you are tardy with deadlines.


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