The genetic differences between living animals can be used to infer relationships between groups, as well as estimate timing of evolutionary divergence, using “molecular clock” approaches.
These predictions can be tested and refined using the fossil evidence. New Bayesian approaches (originally developed for molecular genetic analysis) can be applied to anatomical traits and the fossil record, to estimate broad evolutionary patterns. Current research focuses on several key problems, such as “how fast was evolution during the big bang of animal evolution — the Cambrian explosion”, and “did modern mammals diversify slowly while the dinosaurs were still alive, or did they evolve rapidly after the dinosaur extinctions?”
Researchers involved in this area include Mike Lee and Robin Beck (University of NSW).