The tree of life is a metaphor used to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. Its use dates back to at least the early 1800s. It was employed by Charles Darwin to express the concept of the branching divergence of varieties and then species in a process of common descent from ancestors.
The great naturalist first sketched how species might evolve along branches of an imaginary tree in 1837, an idea that quickly came to symbolize the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Modern scientists and geneticists are now saying that representing evolutionary history as a tree is misleading. A more realistic way to represent the origins and inter-relatedness of species would be an “impenetrable thicket.”
Darwin himself also wrote about evolution and ecosystems as a “tangled bank.”
“We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality,” Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, told New Scientist magazine.
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