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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 May;22(5):1161-4. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

Likelihood, parsimony, and heterogeneous evolution.


Evolutionary rates vary among sites and across the phylogenetic tree (heterotachy). A recent analysis suggested that parsimony can be better than standard likelihood at recovering the true tree given heterotachy. The authors recommended that results from parsimony, which they consider to be nonparametric, be reported alongside likelihood results. They also proposed a mixture model, which was inconsistent but better than either parsimony or standard likelihood under heterotachy. We show that their main conclusion is limited to a special case for the type of model they study. Their mixture model was inconsistent because it was incorrectly implemented. A useful nonparametric model should perform well over a wide range of possible evolutionary models, but parsimony does not have this property. Likelihood-based methods are therefore the best way to deal with heterotachy.

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