Phylogenetic Factor Analysis
Phylogenetic comparative methods explore the relationships between quantitative traits adjusting for shared evolutionary history. This adjustment often occurs through a Brownian diffusion process along the branches of the phylogeny that generates model residuals or the traits themselves. For high-dimensional traits, inferring all pair-wise correlations within the multivariate diffusion is limiting. To circumvent this problem, we propose phylogenetic factor analysis (PFA) that assumes a small unknown number of independent evolutionary factors arise along the phylogeny and these factors generate clusters of dependent traits. Set in a Bayesian framework, PFA provides measures of uncertainty on the factor number and groupings, combines both continuous and discrete traits, integrates over missing measurements and incorporates phylogenetic uncertainty with the help of molecular sequences. We develop Gibbs samplers based on dynamic programming to estimate the PFA posterior distribution, over 3-fold faster than for multivariate diffusion and a further order-of-magnitude more efficiently in the presence of latent traits. We further propose a novel marginal likelihood estimator for previously impractical models with discrete data and find that PFA also provides a better fit than multivariate diffusion in evolutionary questions in columbine flower development, placental reproduction transitions and triggerfish fin morphometry.