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Title: Gene tree quality affects empirical coalescent branch length estimation

Assessing effects of gene tree error in coalescent analyses have widely ignored coalescent branch lengths (CBLs) despite their potential utility in estimating ancestral population demographics and detecting species tree anomaly zones. However, the ability of coalescent methods to obtain accurate estimates remains largely unexplored. Errors in gene trees should lead to underestimates of the true CBL, and for a given set of comparisons, longer CBLs should be more accurate. Here, we furthered our empirical understanding of how error in gene tree quality (i.e., locus informativeness and gene tree resolution) affect CBLs using four datasets comprised of ultraconserved elements (UCE) or exons for clades that exhibit wide ranges of branch lengths. For each dataset, we compared the impact of locus informativeness (assessed using number of parsimony‐informative sites) and gene tree resolution on CBL estimates. Our results, in general, showed that CBLs were drastically shorter when estimates included low informative loci. Gene tree resolution also had an impact on UCE datasets, with polytomous gene trees producing longer branches than randomly resolved gene trees. However, resolution did not appear to affect CBL estimates from the more informative exon datasets. Thus, as expected, gene tree quality affects CBL estimates, though this can generally be minimized by using moderate filtering to select more informative loci and/or by allowing polytomies in gene trees. These approaches, as well as additional contributions to improve CBL estimation, should lead to CBLs that are useful for addressing evolutionary and biological questions.

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Journal Name:
Zoologica Scripta
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1-13
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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