Detection of Implausible Phylogenetic Inferences Using Posterior Predictive Assessment of Model Fit

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Abstract

Systematic phylogenetic error caused by the simplifying assumptions made in models of molecular evolution may be impossible to avoid entirely when attempting to model evolution across massive, diverse data sets. However, not all deficiencies of inference models result in unreliable phylogenetic estimates. The field of phylogenetics lacks a direct method to identify cases where model specification adversely affects inferences. Posterior predictive simulation is a flexible and intuitive approach for assessing goodness-of-fit of the assumed model and priors in a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis. Here, I propose new test statistics for use in posterior predictive assessment of model fit. These test statistics compare phylogenetic inferences from posterior predictive data sets to inferences from the original data. A simulation study demonstrates the utility of these new statistics. The new tests reject the plausibility of inferred tree lengths or topologies more often when data/model combinations produce biased inferences. I also apply this approach to exemplar empirical data sets, highlighting the value of the novel assessments. [Bayesian; Markov chain Monte Carlo; model fit; phylogenetic; posterior predictive distribution; sequence evolution; simulation.

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