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Phylogenetic Analyses of the Correlated Evolution of Continuous Characters: A Simulation Study

Emilia P. Martins and Theodore Garland, Jr.
Evolution
Vol. 45, No. 3 (May, 1991), pp. 534-557
DOI: 10.2307/2409910
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2409910
Page Count: 24
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Phylogenetic Analyses of the Correlated Evolution of Continuous Characters: A Simulation Study
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Abstract

We use computer simulation to compare the statistical properties of several methods that have been proposed for estimating the evolutionary correlation between two continuous traits, and define alternative evolutionary correlations that may be of interest. We focus on Felsenstein's (1985) method and some variations of it and on several "minimum evolution" methods (of which the procedure of Huey and Bennett [1987] is a special case), as compared with a nonphylogenetic correlation. The last, a simple correlation of trait values across the tips of a phylogeny, virtually always yields inflated Type I error rates, relatively low power, and relatively poor estimates of evolutionary correlations. We therefore cannot recommend its use. In contrast, Felsenstein's (1985) method yields acceptable significance tests, high power, and good estimates of what we term the input correlation and the standardized realized evolutionary correlation, given complete phylogenetic information and knowledge of the rate and mode of character change (e.g., gradual and proportional to time ["Brownian motion"] or punctuational, with change only at speciation events). Inaccurate branch length information may affect any method adversely, but only rarely does it cause Felsenstein's (1985) method to perform worse than do the others tested. Other proposed methods generally yield inflated Type I error rates and have lower power. However, certain minimum evolution methods (although not the specific procedure used by Huey and Bennett [1987]) often provide more accurate estimates of what we term the unstandardized realized evolutionary correlation, and their use is recommended when estimation of this correlation is desired. We also demonstrate how correct Type I error rates can be obtained for any method by reference to an empirical null distribution derived from computer simulations, and provide practical suggestions on choosing an analytical method, based both on the evolutionary correlation of interest and on the availability of branch lengths and knowledge of the model of evolutionary change appropriate for the characters being analyzed. Computer programs that implement the various methods and that will simulate (correlated) character evolution along a known phylogeny are available from the authors on request. These programs can be used to test the effectiveness of any new methods that might be proposed, and to check the generality of our conclusions with regard to other phylogenies.

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