Assessment of the Relative Merits of a Few Methods to Detect Evolutionary Trends

  • Laurin M
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Some of the most basic questions about the history of life concern evolutionary trends. These include determining whether or not metazoans have become more complex over time, whether or not body size tends to increase over time (the Cope-Deperet rule), or whether or not brain size has increased over time in various taxa, such as mammals and birds. Despite the proliferation of studies on such topics, assessment of the reliability of results in this field is hampered by the variability of techniques used and the lack of statistical validation of these methods. To solve this problem, simulations are performed using a variety of evolutionary models (gradual Brownian motion, speciational Brownian motion, and Ornstein-Uhlenbeck), with or without a drift of variable amplitude, with variable variance of tips, and with bounds placed close or far from the starting values and final means of simulated characters. These are used to assess the relative merits (power, Type I error rate, bias, and mean absolute value of error on slope estimate) of several statistical methods that have recently been used to assess the presence of evolutionary trends in comparative data. Results show widely divergent performance of the methods. The simple, nonphylogenetic regression (SR) and variance partitioning using phylogenetic eigenvector regression (PVR) with a broken stick selection procedure have greatly inflated Type I error rate (0.123-0.180 at a 0.05 threshold), which invalidates their use in this context. However, they have the greatest power. Most variants of Felsenstein's independent contrasts (FIC; five of which are presented) have adequate Type I error rate, although two have a slightly inflated Type I error rate with at least one of the two reference trees (0.064-0.090 error rate at a 0.05 threshold). The power of all contrast-based methods is always much lower than that of SR and PVR, except under Brownian motion with a strong trend and distant bounds. Mean absolute value of error on slope of all FIC methods is slightly higher than that of phylogenetic generalized least squares (PGLS), SR, and PVR. PGLS performs well, with low Type I error rate, low error on regression coefficient, and power comparable with some FIC methods. Four variants of skewness analysis are examined, and a new method to assess significance of results is presented. However, all have consistently low power, except in rare combinations of trees, trend strength, and distance between final means and bounds. Globally, the results clearly show that FIC-based methods and PGLS are globally better than nonphylogenetic methods and variance partitioning with PVR. FIC methods and PGLS are sensitive to the model of evolution (and, hence, to branch length errors). Our results suggest that regressing raw character contrasts against raw geological age contrasts yields a good combination of power and Type I error rate. New software to facilitate batch analysis is presented.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Evolutionary trends
  • PGLS
  • phylogenetic eigenvector regression
  • phylogenetic independent contrasts
  • simulations
  • skewness analysis
  • statistics
  • variance partition

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  • M Laurin

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