The Independent Evolution Method Is Not a Viable Phylogenetic Comparative Method.
Phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs) use data on species traits and phylogenetic relationships to shed light on evolutionary questions. Recently, Smaers and Vinicius suggested a new PCM, Independent Evolution (IE), which purportedly employs a novel model of evolution based on Felsenstein's Adaptive Peak Model. The authors found that IE improves upon previous PCMs by producing more accurate estimates of ancestral states, as well as separate estimates of evolutionary rates for each branch of a phylogenetic tree. Here, we document substantial theoretical and computational issues with IE. When data are simulated under a simple Brownian motion model of evolution, IE produces severely biased estimates of ancestral states and changes along individual branches. We show that these branch-specific changes are essentially ancestor-descendant or "directional" contrasts, and draw parallels between IE and previous PCMs such as "minimum evolution". Additionally, while comparisons of branch-specific changes between variables have been interpreted as reflecting the relative strength of selection on those traits, we demonstrate through simulations that regressing IE estimated branch-specific changes against one another gives a biased estimate of the scaling relationship between these variables, and provides no advantages or insights beyond established PCMs such as phylogenetically independent contrasts. In light of our findings, we discuss the results of previous papers that employed IE. We conclude that Independent Evolution is not a viable PCM, and should not be used in comparative analyses.
Griffin, RH; Yapuncich, GS
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