When do species-tree and concatenated estimates disagree? An empirical analysis with higher-level scincid lizard phylogeny

Shea M. Lambert, Tod W. Reeder, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Simulation studies suggest that coalescent-based species-tree methods are generally more accurate than concatenated analyses. However, these species-tree methods remain impractical for many large datasets. Thus, a critical but unresolved issue is when and why concatenated and coalescent species-tree estimates will differ. We predict such differences for branches in concatenated trees that are short, weakly supported, and have conflicting gene trees. We test these predictions in Scincidae, the largest lizard family, with data from 10 nuclear genes for 17 ingroup taxa and 44 genes for 12 taxa. We support our initial predictions, and. suggest that simply considering uncertainty in concatenated trees may sometimes encompass the differences between these methods. We also found that relaxed-clock concatenated trees can be surprisingly similar to the species-tree estimate. Remarkably, the coalescent species-tree estimates had slightly lower support values when based on many more genes (44 vs. 10) and a small (~30%) reduction in taxon sampling. Thus, taxon sampling may be more important than gene sampling when applying species-tree methods to deep phylogenetic questions. Finally, our coalescent species-tree estimates tentatively support division of Scincidae into three monophyletic subfamilies, a result otherwise found only in concatenated analyses with extensive species sampling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-155
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue numberPA
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Concatenated analysis
  • Phylogenetic methods
  • Reptile
  • Scincidae
  • Species-tree analysis
  • Taxon sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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