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Accuracy of phylogeny reconstruction methods combining overlapping gene data sets

Anne Kupczok12, Heiko A Schmidt1* and Arndt von Haeseler1

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Integrative Bioinformatics Vienna, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Dr. Bohr-Gasse 9, A-1030 Vienna, Austria

2 Current Address: IST Austria, Am Campus 1, A-3400 Klosterneuburg, Austria

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Algorithms for Molecular Biology 2010, 5:37  doi:10.1186/1748-7188-5-37

Published: 6 December 2010



The availability of many gene alignments with overlapping taxon sets raises the question of which strategy is the best to infer species phylogenies from multiple gene information. Methods and programs abound that use the gene alignment in different ways to reconstruct the species tree. In particular, different methods combine the original data at different points along the way from the underlying sequences to the final tree. Accordingly, they are classified into superalignment, supertree and medium-level approaches. Here, we present a simulation study to compare different methods from each of these three approaches.


We observe that superalignment methods usually outperform the other approaches over a wide range of parameters including sparse data and gene-specific evolutionary parameters. In the presence of high incongruency among gene trees, however, other combination methods show better performance than the superalignment approach. Surprisingly, some supertree and medium-level methods exhibit, on average, worse results than a single gene phylogeny with complete taxon information.


For some methods, using the reconstructed gene tree as an estimation of the species tree is superior to the combination of incomplete information. Superalignment usually performs best since it is less susceptible to stochastic error. Supertree methods can outperform superalignment in the presence of gene-tree conflict.