Phylogenetic extinction rates and comparative methodology

Paul H. Harvey, Andrew Rambaut

Abstract

Species are not independent points for comparative analyses because closely related species share more evolutionary history and are therefore more similar to each other than distantly related species. The extent to which independent–contrast analysis reduces type I and type II statistical error in comparison with cross–species analysis depends on the relative branch lengths in the phylogenetic tree: as deeper branches get relatively long, cross–species analyses have more statistical type I and type II error. Phylogenetic trees reconstructed from extant species, under the assumptions of a branching process with speciation (branching) and extinction rates remaining constant through time, will have relatively longer deep branches as the extinction rate increases relative to the speciation rate. We compare the statistical performance of cross–species and independent–contrast analyses with varying relative extinction rates, and conclude that cross–species comparisons have unacceptable statistical performance, particularly when extinction rates are relatively high.