Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Perspectives from Montiaceae (Portulacineae) Evolution. II. Ecological Evolution, Phylogenetic Comparative Analysis, and the Principle of Evolutionary Idiosyncraticity

Version 1 : Received: 1 October 2018 / Approved: 2 October 2018 / Online: 2 October 2018 (12:06:57 CEST)

How to cite: Hershkovitz, M. Perspectives from Montiaceae (Portulacineae) Evolution. II. Ecological Evolution, Phylogenetic Comparative Analysis, and the Principle of Evolutionary Idiosyncraticity. Preprints 2018, 2018090566. Hershkovitz, M. Perspectives from Montiaceae (Portulacineae) Evolution. II. Ecological Evolution, Phylogenetic Comparative Analysis, and the Principle of Evolutionary Idiosyncraticity. Preprints 2018, 2018090566.


The present paper reviews evidence for ecological evolution of Montiaceae. Montiaceae (Portulacineae) comprise a family of ca. 275 species and ca. 25 subspecific taxa of flowering plants distributed mainly in extreme western America, with additional endemism elsewhere, including other continents and islands. They have diversified repeatedly across steep ecological gradients. Based on narrative analysis, I argue that phylogenetic transitions from annual to perennial life history have been more frequent than suggested by computational phylogenetic reconstructions. I suggest that a reported phylogenetic correlation between the evolution of life history and temperature niche is coincidental and not causal. I demonstrate how statistical phylogenetic comparative analysis (PhCA) missed evidence for marked moisture niche diversification among Montiaceae. I discount PhCA evidence for the relation between Montiaceae genome duplication and ecological diversification. Based on the present analysis of Montiaceae evolution, I criticize the premise of the prevalent statistical approach to PhCA, which tests Darwinian deterministic hypotheses against stochastic evolutionary null models. I discuss theoretical/empirical evidence that evolution is neither stochastic, nor Darwinistically-determined, but idiosyncratic. Idiosyncraticity describes the outcome of a stochastically perturbed nonlinear chaos-like process. The Principle of Evolutionary Idiosyncraticity (PEI) is based on the evolutionary theory of Natural Drift, which maintains that determinism in evolution is a property of the organism and not, as maintained by the theory of Natural Selection, its traits or its milieu. This determinism is characteristic of chaotic functions, which are absolutely determinate, generate self-similarity, but remain absolutely unpredictable. PEI explains precisely observations that evolution proceeds not linearly, but chaotically, producing both quasi-linear fractal-like patterns and non-linear jumps. PEI has ramifications for all areas of macroevolutionary research. In particular, it demonstrates both the fallacy and futility of the statistical PhCA approach that interprets evolutionary causes in terms of evolutionary correlations. However, statistical methods of PhCA can be applied heuristically and fruitfully to reveal idiosyncraticity and discover evolutionary novelty. This, in turn, is demonstrated by the emergence of statistical anomalies in evolutionary analyses of Montiaceae.


Montiaceae; life history; climate niche; polyploidy; phylogenetic comparative analysis (PhCA); natural selection (NS); natural drift (ND); chaos; stochasticity; determinism; principle of evolutionary idiosyncraticity (PEI)


Biology and Life Sciences, Plant Sciences

Comments (2)

Comment 1
Received: 2 October 2018
The commenter has declared there is no conflict of interests.

1. Idiosyncratic is the term proposed to describe the behavior/outcome of a process that derives from both chaotic and stochastic functions.

2. I propose that biological evolution is such a process

3. The term differs from “drift” in that the latter has been used to describe a stochastic process, and “natural drift” emphasizes an overall effect, does not identify the underlying mathematical functions, and inadequately captures the behavior of individual lineages of interest, be they taxa or individual organisms.

4. But otherwise idiosyncraticity captures the critical distinction between ND and NS: the determinacy in the former maps to the organism and not “Darwinian factors,” as conceived in NS. It is the inverse of NS: the organism is the selecting agent.

5. Like NS, PEI is a tautological universal explanation of evolutionary phenomena.

6. But it differs from NS in that the latter applies selection to explain the mean and chance/drift to explain the deviation.

7. Mean/deviation have no meaning in a chaotic or idiosyncratic function. Idiosyncraticity thus explains both apparently statistically significant evolutionary patterns explained by natural or “selective selection” and statistically insignificant random occurrences explained by drift or “random selection” (an oxymoron; see below).

8. Consequent to humanistic indoctrination, in both scientific and popular humanistic culture, NS indeed is a tautological explanation for all biological patterning. The same for religious indoctrination and creationism. In the same way, consequent to Marxist indoctrination, in Chile’s public education system, every unpleasantness in life is attributed to capitalism or neoliberalism or the US.


1. Pigliucci (2012) asserted that natural selection is not an optimization process.

2. This assertion might be deceptively bolstered by the existence of “random selection,” e.g., lotteries.

3. This is a red herring.

4. Lotteries are not conceived as optimization processes, but in reality are exactly that, but functioning at a higher and/or lower hierarchical level.

5. Lottery actors include the lottery operators. The operators contrive an apparently random selection process in order to optimize their own earnings.

6. The operators do not select the winner per se. Indeed, this is random and there is no optimization.

7. But this is just a ruse. The winner is among the players in the pool. It is the PLAYER POOL that is selected, and this separates players from nonplayers.

8. THIS is the selection that optimizes something—for the lottery operators.

9. The pool comprises players who select to participate to COMPETE for personal optimization.

10. The random assignment of winnings among players is irrelevant. If the winner spends the jackpot on lottery tickets, all will be lost eventually. The house always wins.

11. “Random selection” is equivalent to “nonselective selection.” It is an oxymoron. There is no such a thing.

12. As the Price Equation makes clear, selection is the outcome of a selective process. Selection per se does not identify or describe that process. I explained this using automobile model sales or trend in overall fuel economy. These can and often do owe to factors other than consumer selection. The price of raw materials, labor upheaval, the president of the company wants to build an Edsel, you name it.

13. The theory of natural selection is attributed to Darwin, and Darwin explained selection in terms of optimization. A better name for Darwin’s theory would be the Theory of Natural Selective Optimization.

14. So, no, natural selection cannot be a process that does not optimize. And I believe that Pigliucci knows this. Pigliucci is among the most intelligent, erudite, and savvy members of the evolutionary biology discipline. For this reason, I doubted that the modified definition of natural selection was a pedestrian error.

15. I offered an explanation for this redefinition, and I would be happy to entertain any other explanation. Especially from Pigliucci.


1. As Boeing and others point out, chaotic functions are absolutely predictable given the function and initial conditions.

2. But chaotic functions are unpredictable if they are observed in process and the function and initial conditions are not known. They cannot be recovered statistically. The estimate may be close or way off target.

3. Without recovering the function and initial conditions, one cannot either statistically predict subsequent process evolution. Again, the estimate might be close or way off.

4. According to PEI, evolution is partially a chaotic or chaos-like function.

5. Thus, the statistical phylogenetic comparative analysis paradigm is invalid, suffering two critical faults, one because of the assumption of adaptive natural selection, the other the inapplicability of statistics to recover or predict a chaotic process. Thus, the paradigm is pseudoscience, not unlike forms of numerology.

6. The preceding is true in the best of possible circumstances, when the analysis is technically accurate.

7. But I have pointed out that existing analyses of Montiaceae evolution are deeply flawed technically. I have identified problems with taxon sampling, taxon identification, trait definitions, various ecological data flaws including using precipitation data as a proxy for moisture niche, failure to distinguish between the effects of polyploidy and hybridization, failure to discriminate between forms of succulence and forms of arid adaptation, on and on.

8. At the same time, I noted that, from a STATISTICAL epistemological standpoint, these are not flaws, because in this mindset, the quality of "truth" is statistical, not material.

9. At best, phylogenetic comparative analysis as it is practiced currently yields a biased statistical description of the outcome of evolution. At best, it is bookkeeping, not science. At worst, it is a scam.

10. But I do suggest and recommend that it can be retooled and directed towards scientific discovery.


1. Three years ago, I developed an essay on species concepts which I circulated privately and tried unsuccessfully to publish.

2. I proposed the “wave model” of the origin and ontology species, which also deferred to natural drift theory and also described species and taxa generally as literal water wave analogies, pointing out that the latter are hierarchical fractals.

3. But this was before I familiarized myself with chaos theory and before I conceived of PEI.

4. My work on wave model contributed to my work on PEI, and PEI renders clear that wave model is correct. This will allow me to publish a much briefer presentation of wave model.

5. In the meantime, I can say with all certainty that PEI and wave model solve “the species problem” definitively and scientifically.

6. All other species concepts are obsolete. Especially the cladistic species concept, which turns out to be neo-creationist. Trust me. It was first proposed in the Bible. Proponents of cladistic species concepts are correspondingly dogmatic. Cladistic species advocates believe that species are clades like Jehovah's Witnesses believe the universe was created in six days.

7. However, existing species concepts, like existing comparative analyses, retain heuristic value. They also are useful for from the standpoint of human psychology and scientific cultural anthropology.
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Comment 2
Received: 2 October 2018
The commenter has declared there is no conflict of interests.
Comment: "The problem in evolutionary debate traces to conflicts not so much technical as epistemological. Comparing apples and origins."
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