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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Feb;20(2):248-54.

Comparison of Bayesian and maximum likelihood bootstrap measures of phylogenetic reliability.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Owing to the exponential growth of genome databases, phylogenetic trees are now widely used to test a variety of evolutionary hypotheses. Nevertheless, computation time burden limits the application of methods such as maximum likelihood nonparametric bootstrap to assess reliability of evolutionary trees. As an alternative, the much faster Bayesian inference of phylogeny, which expresses branch support as posterior probabilities, has been introduced. However, marked discrepancies exist between nonparametric bootstrap proportions and Bayesian posterior probabilities, leading to difficulties in the interpretation of sometimes strongly conflicting results. As an attempt to reconcile these two indices of node reliability, we apply the nonparametric bootstrap resampling procedure to the Bayesian approach. The correlation between posterior probabilities, bootstrap maximum likelihood percentages, and bootstrapped posterior probabilities was studied for eight highly diverse empirical data sets and were also investigated using experimental simulation. Our results show that the relation between posterior probabilities and bootstrapped maximum likelihood percentages is highly variable but that very strong correlations always exist when Bayesian node support is estimated on bootstrapped character matrices. Moreover, simulations corroborate empirical observations in suggesting that, being more conservative, the bootstrap approach might be less prone to strongly supporting a false phylogenetic hypothesis. Thus, apparent conflicts in topology recovered by the Bayesian approach were reduced after bootstrapping. Both posterior probabilities and bootstrap supports are of great interest to phylogeny as potential upper and lower bounds of node reliability, but they are surely not interchangeable and cannot be directly compared.

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