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Mol Biol Evol. 1994 Mar;11(2):261-77.

Relative efficiencies of the maximum-likelihood, neighbor-joining, and maximum-parsimony methods when substitution rate varies with site.

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National Institute of Genetics, Mishima.


The relative efficiencies of the maximum-likelihood (ML), neighbor-joining (NJ), and maximum-parsimony (MP) methods in obtaining the correct topology and in estimating the branch lengths for the case of four DNA sequences were studied by computer simulation, under the assumption either that there is variation in substitution rate among different nucleotide sites or that there is no variation. For the NJ method, several different distance measures (Jukes-Cantor, Kimura two-parameter, and gamma distances) were used, whereas for the ML method three different transition/transversion ratios (R) were used. For the MP method, both the standard unweighted parsimony and the dynamically weighted parsimony methods were used. The results obtained are as follows: (1) When the R value is high, dynamically weighted parsimony is more efficient than unweighted parsimony in obtaining the correct topology. (2) However, both weighted and unweighted parsimony methods are generally less efficient than the NJ and ML methods even in the case where the MP method gives a consistent tree. (3) When all the assumptions of the ML method are satisfied, this method is slightly more efficient than the NJ method. However, when the assumptions are not satisfied, the NJ method with gamma distances is slightly better in obtaining the correct topology than is the ML method. In general, the two methods show more or less the same performance. The NJ method may give a correct topology even when the distance measures used are not unbiased estimators of nucleotide substitutions. (4) Branch length estimates of a tree with the correct topology are affected more easily than topology by violation of the assumptions of the mathematical model used, for both the ML and the NJ methods. Under certain conditions, branch lengths are seriously overestimated or underestimated. The MP method often gives serious underestimates for certain branches. (5) Distance measures that generate the correct topology, with high probability, do not necessarily give good estimates of branch lengths. (6) The likelihood-ratio test and the confidence-limit test, in Felsenstein's DNAML, for examining the statistical of branch length estimates are quite sensitive to violation of the assumptions and are generally too liberal to be used for actual data. Rzhetsky and Nei's branch length test is less sensitive to violation of the assumptions than is Felsenstein's test. (7) When the extent of sequence divergence is < or = 5% and when > or = 1,000 nucleotides are used, all three methods show essentially the same efficiency in obtaining the correct topology and in estimating branch lengths.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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