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J Mol Evol. 2001 May;52(5):434-44.

The effect of branch length variation on the selection of models of molecular evolution.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602-5255, USA.


Models of sequence evolution play an important role in molecular evolutionary studies. The use of inappropriate models of evolution may bias the results of the analysis and lead to erroneous conclusions. Several procedures for selecting the best-fit model of evolution for the data at hand have been proposed, like the likelihood ratio test (LRT) and the Akaike (AIC) and Bayesian (BIC) information criteria. The relative performance of these model-selecting algorithms has not yet been studied under a range of different model trees. In this study, the influence of branch length variation upon model selection is characterized. This is done by simulating sequence alignments under a known model of nucleotide substitution, and recording how often this true model is recovered by different model-fitting strategies. Results of this study agree with previous simulations and suggest that model selection is reasonably accurate. However, different model selection methods showed distinct levels of accuracy. Some LRT approaches showed better performance than the AIC or BIC information criteria. Within the LRTs, model selection is affected by the complexity of the initial model selected for the comparisons, and only slightly by the order in which different parameters are added to the model. A specific hierarchy of LRTs, which starts from a simple model of evolution, performed overall better than other possible LRT hierarchies, or than the AIC or BIC.

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