Charles Darwin Wrong on Tree of Life: 'View of Biology Needs to Change,' Say Scientists

New research suggests that Charles Darwin's "tree of life" that describes the relationships between living animals and their extinct ancestors could be wrong and that the linear image depicted by Darwin's work is outdated and oversimplified.

Darwin's theories regarding animal evolution have long been a point of contention for the general public, but research conducted by geneticists gives weight to the notion that Darwin may have been mistaken when developing his diagram representing evolutionary relationships over time.

His diagram, commonly referred to as the "tree of life," depicts a linear relationship between past and present animal species where genes can easily be traced back to previous generations and species of animals.

But scientists who have come to question Darwin's work regarding this linear relationship contend that instead of a linear "tree of life" model a more accurate depiction would be to categorize the relationships as an overgrown thicket. This image more accurately describes the interconnectedness and convoluted genealogy lines that are present in modern animals, presenting a more tangled web of life rather than a "tree of life."

"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.

Work done by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington showed that the prevalence of crossbreeding and hybridization was more common than originally thought, contributing to a more tangled web of genealogy lines.

Though Darwin used this linear diagram to describe his metaphor for evolution, his writings show that he described evolution and ecosystems as a "tangled bank" of animal lineage. The main principals of his theory of evolution remaining widely accepted in scholarly circles.

At issue is Darwin's apparent oversimplification of his description of relationships of evolutionary genealogy.

"The tree of life is being politely buried," Michael Rose, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, told Live Science. "What's less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change."