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PLoS One. 2009;4(2):e4390. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004390. Epub 2009 Feb 5.

Phylogenetic resolution and quantifying the phylogenetic diversity and dispersion of communities.

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Center for Tropical Forest Science-Asia Program, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.


Conservation biologists and community ecologists have increasingly begun to quantify the phylogenetic diversity and phylogenetic dispersion in species assemblages. In some instances, the phylogenetic trees used for such analyses are fully bifurcating, but in many cases the phylogenies being used contain unresolved nodes (i.e. polytomies). The lack of phylogenetic resolution in such studies, while certainly not preferred, is likely to continue particularly for those analyzing diverse communities and datasets with hundreds to thousands of taxa. Thus it is imperative that we quantify potential biases and losses of statistical power in studies that use phylogenetic trees that are not completely resolved. The present study is designed to meet both of these goals by quantifying the phylogenetic diversity and dispersion of simulated communities using resolved and gradually 'unresolved' phylogenies. The results show that: (i) measures of community phylogenetic diversity and dispersion are generally more sensitive to loss of resolution basally in the phylogeny and less sensitive to loss of resolution terminally; and (ii) the loss of phylogenetic resolution generally causes false negative results rather than false positives.

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