Branch Lengths on Birth–Death Trees and the Expected Loss of Phylogenetic Diversity

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Diversification is nested, and early models suggested this could lead to a great deal of evolutionary redundancy in the Tree of Life. This result is based on a particular set of branch lengths produced by the common coalescent, where pendant branches leading to tips can be very short compared with branches deeper in the tree. Here, we analyze alternative and more realistic Yule and birth–death models. We show how censoring at the present both makes average branches one half what we might expect and makes pendant and interior branches roughly equal in length. Although dependent on whether we condition on the size of the tree, its age, or both, these results hold both for the Yule model and for birth–death models with moderate extinction. Importantly, the rough equivalency in interior and exterior branch lengths means that the loss of evolutionary history with loss of species can be roughly linear. Under these models, the Tree of Life may offer limited redundancy in the face of ongoing species loss.

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