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Syst Biol. 1998 Mar;47(1):9-17.

Is it better to add taxa or characters to a difficult phylogenetic problem?

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Department of Zoology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712,


The effects on phylogenetic accuracy of adding characters and/or taxa were explored using data generated by computer simulation. The conditions of this study were constrained but allowed for systematic investigation of certain parameters. The starting point for the study was a four-taxon tree in the "Felsenstein zone," representing a difficult phylogenetic problem with an extreme situation of long branch attraction. Taxa were added sequentially to this tree in a manner specifically designed to break up the long branches, and for each tree data matrices of different sizes were simulated. Phylogenetic trees were reconstructed from these data using the criteria of parsimony and maximum likelihood. Phylogenetic accuracy was measured in three ways: (1) proportion of trees that are completely correct, (2) proportion of correctly reconstructed branches in all trees, and (3) proportion of trees in which the original four-taxon statement is correctly reconstructed. Accuracy improved dramatically with the addition of taxa and much more slowly with the addition of characters. If taxa can be added to break up long branches, it is much more preferable to add taxa than characters.

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