Estimating diversification rates: How useful are divergence times?

Joel O. Wertheim, Michael J. Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The dynamics of species diversification rates are a key component of macroevolutionary patterns. Although not absolutely necessary, the use of divergence times inferred from sequence data has led to development of more powerful methods for inferring diversification rates. However, it is unclear what impact uncertainty in age estimates have on diversification rate inferences. Here, we quantify these effects using both Bayesian and frequentist methodology. Through simulation, we demonstrate that adding sequence data results in more precise estimates of internal node ages, but a reasonable approximation of these node ages is often sufficient to approach the theoretical minimum variance in speciation rate estimates. We also find that even crude estimates of divergence times increase the power of tests of diversification rate differences between sister clades. Finally, because Bayesian and frequentist methods provided similar assessments of error, novel Bayesian approaches may provide a useful framework for tests of diversification rates in more complex contexts than are addressed here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-320
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Bayesian
  • Divergence times
  • Diversification rate
  • Frequentist
  • Phylogenetic inference
  • Yule model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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