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Background: Genomic-scale sequence alignments are increasingly used to infer phylogenies in order to better understand the processes and patterns of evolution. Different partitions within these new alignments (e.g., genes, codon positions, and structural features) often favor hundreds if not thousands of competing phylogenies. Summarizing and comparing phylogenies obtained from multi-source data sets using current consensus tree methods discards valuable information and can disguise potential methodological problems. Discovery of efficient and accurate dimensionality reduction methods used to display at once in 2- or 3- dimensions the relationship among these competing phylogenies will help practitioners diagnose the limits of current evolutionary models and potential problems with phylogenetic reconstruction methods when analyzing large multi-source data sets. We introduce several dimensionality reduction methods to visualize in 2- and 3-dimensions the relationship among competing phylogenies obtained from gene partitions found in three mid- to large-size mitochondrial genome alignments. We test the performance of these dimensionality reduction methods by applying several goodness-of-fit measures. The intrinsic dimensionality of each data set is also estimated to determine whether projections in 2- and 3-dimensions can be expected to reveal meaningful relationships among trees from different data partitions. Several new approaches to aid in the comparison of different phylogenetic landscapes are presented. Results: Curvilinear Components Analysis (CCA) and a stochastic gradient decent (SGD) optimization method give the best representation of the original tree-to-tree distance matrix for each of the three- mitochondrial genome alignments and greatly outperformed the method currently used to visualize tree landscapes. The CCA + SGD method converged at least as fast as previously applied methods for visualizing tree landscapes. We demonstrate for all three mtDNA alignments that 3D projections significantly increase the fit between the tree-to-tree distances and can facilitate the interpretation of the relationship among phylogenetic trees. Conclusions: We demonstrate that the choice of dimensionality reduction method can significantly influence the spatial relationship among a large set of competing phylogenetic trees. We highlight the importance of selecting a dimensionality reduction method to visualize large multi-locus phylogenetic landscapes and demonstrate that 3D projections of mitochondrial tree landscapes better capture the relationship among the trees being compared.
Wilgenbusch, J. C., Huang, W., & Gallivan, K. A. (2017). Visualizing phylogenetic tree landscapes. BMC Bioinformatics, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12859-017-1479-1