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Mol Ecol. 2002 Dec;11(12):2623-35.

Statistical phylogeography.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0088, USA.


While studies of phylogeography and speciation in the past have largely focused on the documentation or detection of significant patterns of population genetic structure, the emerging field of statistical phylogeography aims to infer the history and processes underlying that structure, and to provide objective, rather than ad hoc explanations. Methods for parameter estimation are now commonly used to make inferences about demographic past. Although these approaches are well developed statistically, they typically pay little attention to geographical history. In contrast, methods that seek to reconstruct phylogeographic history are able to consider many alternative geographical scenarios, but are primarily nonstatistical, making inferences about particular biological processes without explicit reference to stochastically derived expectations. We advocate the merging of these two traditions so that statistical phylogeographic methods can provide an accurate representation of the past, consider a diverse array of processes, and yet yield a statistical estimate of that history. We discuss various conceptual issues associated with statistical phylogeographic inferences, considering especially the stochasticity of population genetic processes and assessing the confidence of phylogeographic conclusions. To this end, we present some empirical examples that utilize a statistical phylogeographic approach, and then by contrasting results from a coalescent-based approach to those from Templeton's nested cladistic analysis (NCA), we illustrate the importance of assessing error. Because NCA does not assess error in its inferences about historical processes or contemporary gene flow, we performed a small-scale study using simulated data to examine how our conclusions might be affected by such unconsidered errors. NCA did not identify the processes used to simulate the data, confusing among deterministic processes and the stochastic sorting of gene lineages. There is as yet insufficient justification of NCA's ability to accurately infer or distinguish among alternative processes. We close with a discussion of some unresolved problems of current statistical phylogeographic methods to propose areas in need of future development.

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