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Syst Biol. 2007 Jun;56(3):453-66.

Inferring speciation times under an episodic molecular clock.

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Genome Center and Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California, USA.


We extend our recently developed Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm for Bayesian estimation of species divergence times to allow variable evolutionary rates among lineages. The method can use heterogeneous data from multiple gene loci and accommodate multiple fossil calibrations. Uncertainties in fossil calibrations are described using flexible statistical distributions. The prior for divergence times for nodes lacking fossil calibrations is specified by use of a birth-death process with species sampling. The prior for lineage-specific substitution rates is specified using either a model with autocorrelated rates among adjacent lineages (based on a geometric Brownian motion model of rate drift) or a model with independent rates among lineages specified by a log-normal probability distribution. We develop an infinite-sites theory, which predicts that when the amount of sequence data approaches infinity, the width of the posterior credibility interval and the posterior mean of divergence times form a perfect linear relationship, with the slope indicating uncertainties in time estimates that cannot be reduced by sequence data alone. Simulations are used to study the influence of among-lineage rate variation and the number of loci sampled on the uncertainty of divergence time estimates. The analysis suggests that posterior time estimates typically involve considerable uncertainties even with an infinite amount of sequence data, and that the reliability and precision of fossil calibrations are critically important to divergence time estimation. We apply our new algorithms to two empirical data sets and compare the results with those obtained in previous Bayesian and likelihood analyses. The results demonstrate the utility of our new algorithms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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