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  1. Machine learning has increasingly been applied to a wide range of questions in phylogenetic inference. Supervised machine learning approaches that rely on simulated training data have been used to infer tree topologies and branch lengths, to select substitution models, and to perform downstream inferences of introgression and diversification. Here, we review how researchers have used several promising machine learning approaches to make phylogenetic inferences. Despite the promise of these methods, several barriers prevent supervised machine learning from reaching its full potential in phylogenetics. We discuss these barriers and potential paths forward. In the future, we expect that the application of careful network designs and data encodings will allow supervised machine learning to accommodate the complex processes that continue to confound traditional phylogenetic methods. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2025
  2. Abstract Motivation

    The application of machine learning approaches in phylogenetics has been impeded by the vast model space associated with inference. Supervised machine learning approaches require data from across this space to train models. Because of this, previous approaches have typically been limited to inferring relationships among unrooted quartets of taxa, where there are only three possible topologies. Here, we explore the potential of generative adversarial networks (GANs) to address this limitation. GANs consist of a generator and a discriminator: at each step, the generator aims to create data that is similar to real data, while the discriminator attempts to distinguish generated and real data. By using an evolutionary model as the generator, we use GANs to make evolutionary inferences. Since a new model can be considered at each iteration, heuristic searches of complex model spaces are possible. Thus, GANs offer a potential solution to the challenges of applying machine learning in phylogenetics.


    We developed phyloGAN, a GAN that infers phylogenetic relationships among species. phyloGAN takes as input a concatenated alignment, or a set of gene alignments, and infers a phylogenetic tree either considering or ignoring gene tree heterogeneity. We explored the performance of phyloGAN for up to 15 taxa in the concatenation case and 6 taxa when considering gene tree heterogeneity. Error rates are relatively low in these simple cases. However, run times are slow and performance metrics suggest issues during training. Future work should explore novel architectures that may result in more stable and efficient GANs for phylogenetics.

    Availability and implementation

    phyloGAN is available on github:

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  3. Townsend, Jeffrey (Ed.)
    Abstract Traditionally, single-copy orthologs have been the gold standard in phylogenomics. Most phylogenomic studies identify putative single-copy orthologs using clustering approaches and retain families with a single sequence per species. This limits the amount of data available by excluding larger families. Recent advances have suggested several ways to include data from larger families. For instance, tree-based decomposition methods facilitate the extraction of orthologs from large families. Additionally, several methods for species tree inference are robust to the inclusion of paralogs and could use all of the data from larger families. Here, we explore the effects of using all families for phylogenetic inference by examining relationships among 26 primate species in detail and by analyzing five additional data sets. We compare single-copy families, orthologs extracted using tree-based decomposition approaches, and all families with all data. We explore several species tree inference methods, finding that identical trees are returned across nearly all subsets of the data and methods for primates. The relationships among Platyrrhini remain contentious; however, the species tree inference method matters more than the subset of data used. Using data from larger gene families drastically increases the number of genes available and leads to consistent estimates of branch lengths, nodal certainty and concordance, and inferences of introgression in primates. For the other data sets, topological inferences are consistent whether single-copy families or orthologs extracted using decomposition approaches are analyzed. Using larger gene families is a promising approach to include more data in phylogenomics without sacrificing accuracy, at least when high-quality genomes are available. 
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  4. Abstract

    Phylogenetics has long relied on the use of orthologs, or genes related through speciation events, to infer species relationships. However, identifying orthologs is difficult because gene duplication can obscure relationships among genes. Researchers have been particularly concerned with the insidious effects of pseudoorthologs—duplicated genes that are mistaken for orthologs because they are present in a single copy in each sampled species. Because gene tree topologies of pseudoorthologs may differ from the species tree topology, they have often been invoked as the cause of counterintuitive results in phylogenetics. Despite these perceived problems, no previous work has calculated the probabilities of pseudoortholog topologies or has been able to circumscribe the regions of parameter space in which pseudoorthologs are most likely to occur. Here, we introduce a model for calculating the probabilities and branch lengths of orthologs and pseudoorthologs, including concordant and discordant pseudoortholog topologies, on a rooted three-taxon species tree. We show that the probability of orthologs is high relative to the probability of pseudoorthologs across reasonable regions of parameter space. Furthermore, the probabilities of the two discordant topologies are equal and never exceed that of the concordant topology, generally being much lower. We describe the species tree topologies most prone to generating pseudoorthologs, finding that they are likely to present problems to phylogenetic inference irrespective of the presence of pseudoorthologs. Overall, our results suggest that pseudoorthologs are unlikely to mislead inferences of species relationships under the biological scenarios considered here.[Birth–death model; orthologs; paralogs; phylogenetics.]

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  5. Kubatko, Laura (Ed.)
    Abstract Many recent phylogenetic methods have focused on accurately inferring species trees when there is gene tree discordance due to incomplete lineage sorting (ILS). For almost all of these methods, and for phylogenetic methods in general, the data for each locus are assumed to consist of orthologous, single-copy sequences. Loci that are present in more than a single copy in any of the studied genomes are excluded from the data. These steps greatly reduce the number of loci available for analysis. The question we seek to answer in this study is: what happens if one runs such species tree inference methods on data where paralogy is present, in addition to or without ILS being present? Through simulation studies and analyses of two large biological data sets, we show that running such methods on data with paralogs can still provide accurate results. We use multiple different methods, some of which are based directly on the multispecies coalescent model, and some of which have been proven to be statistically consistent under it. We also treat the paralogous loci in multiple ways: from explicitly denoting them as paralogs, to randomly selecting one copy per species. In all cases, the inferred species trees are as accurate as equivalent analyses using single-copy orthologs. Our results have significant implications for the use of ILS-aware phylogenomic analyses, demonstrating that they do not have to be restricted to single-copy loci. This will greatly increase the amount of data that can be used for phylogenetic inference.[Gene duplication and loss; incomplete lineage sorting; multispecies coalescent; orthology; paralogy.] 
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  6. Abstract

    Pleistocene glacial cycles drastically changed the distributions of taxa endemic to temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, with many experiencing reduced habitat suitability during glacial periods. In this study, we investigate whether glacial cycles promoted intraspecific divergence and whether subsequent range changes led to secondary contact and gene flow. For seven invertebrate species endemic to the PNW, we estimated species distribution models (SDMs) and projected them onto current and historical climate conditions to assess how habitat suitability changed during glacial cycles. Using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data from these species, we assessed population genetic structure and used a machine‐learning approach to compare models with and without gene flow between populations upon secondary contact after the last glacial maximum (LGM). Finally, we estimated divergence times and rates of gene flow between populations. SDMs suggest that there was less suitable habitat in the North Cascades and Northern Rocky Mountains during glacial compared to interglacial periods, resulting in reduced habitat suitability and increased habitat fragmentation during the LGM. Our genomic data identify population structure in all taxa, and support gene flow upon secondary contact in five of the seven taxa. Parameter estimates suggest that population divergences date to the later Pleistocene for most populations. Our results support a role of refugial dynamics in driving intraspecific divergence in the Cascades Range. In these invertebrates, population structure often does not correspond to current biogeographic or environmental barriers. Rather, population structure may reflect refugial lineages that have since expanded their ranges, often leading to secondary contact between once isolated lineages.

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  7. Abstract

    Range expansions are a potential outcome of changes in habitat suitability, which commonly result as a consequence of climate change. Hypotheses on such changes in the geographic distribution of a certain species can be evaluated using population genetic structure and demography. In this study we explore the population genetic structure, genetic variability, demographic history of, and habitat suitability forAmblyomma americanum, a North American tick species that is a known vector of several pathogenic microorganisms. We used a double digestion restriction site‐associated DNA sequencing technique (dd‐RAD seq) and discovered 8,181 independent single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 189 ticks from across the geographic range of the species. Genetic diversity was low, particularly when considering the broad geographic range of this species. The edge populations were less diverse than populations belonging to the historic range, possibly indicative of a range expansion, but this hypothesis was not statistically supported by a test based on genetic data. Nonetheless, moderate levels of population structure and substructure were detected between geographic regions. For New England, demographic and species distribution models support a scenario whereA. americanumwas present in more northern locations in the past, underwent a bottleneck, and subsequently recovered. These results are consistent with a hypothesis that this species is re‐establishing in this area, rather than one focused on range expansion from the south. This hypothesis is consistent with old records describing the presence ofA. americanumin the northeastern US in the early colonial period.

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