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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Nov;22(11):2139-41. Epub 2005 Jul 13.

Maximum likelihood outperforms maximum parsimony even when evolutionary rates are heterotachous.


Heterotachy occurs when the relative evolutionary rates among sites are not the same across lineages. Sequence alignments are likely to exhibit heterotachy with varying severity because the intensity of purifying selection and adaptive forces at a given amino acid or DNA sequence position is unlikely to be the same in different species. In a recent study, the influence of heterotachy on the performance of different phylogenetic methods was examined using computer simulation for a four-species phylogeny. Maximum parsimony (MP) was reported to generally outperform maximum likelihood (ML). However, our comparisons of MP and ML methods using the methods and evaluation criteria employed in that study, but considering the possible range of proportions of sites involved in heterotachy, contradict their findings and indicate that, in fact, ML is significantly superior to MP even under heterotachy.

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