Biologists would be mistaken if they relegated living fossils to paleontological inquiry or assumed that the concept is dead. It is now used to describe entities ranging from viruses to higher taxa, despite recent warnings of misleading inferences. Current work on character evolution illustrates how analyzing living fossils and stasis in terms of parts (characters) and wholes (e.g., organisms and lineages) advances our understanding of prolonged stasis at many hierarchical levels. Instead of viewing the concept's task as categorizing living fossils, we show how its primary role is to mark out what is in need of explanation, accounting for the persistence of both molecular and morphological traits. Rethinking different conceptions of living fossils as specific hypotheses reveals novel avenues for research that integrate phylogenetics, ecological and evolutionary modeling, and evo-devo to produce a more unified theoretical outlook.

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