Charles W Linkem, Vladimir N. Minin, Adam D Leache
The anomaly zone presents a major challenge to the accurate resolution of many parts of the Tree of Life. The anomaly zone is defined by the presence of a gene tree topology that is more probable than the true species tree. This discrepancy can result from consecutive rapid speciation events in the species tree. Similar to the problem of long-branch attraction, including more data (loci) will only reinforce the support for the incorrect species tree. Empirical phylogenetic studies often implement coalescent based species tree methods to avoid the anomaly zone, but to this point these studies have not had a method for providing any direct evidence that the species tree is actually in the anomaly zone. In this study, we use 16 species of lizards in the family Scincidae to investigate whether nodes that are difficult to resolve are located within the anomaly zone. We analyze new phylogenomic data (429 loci), using both concatenation and coalescent based species tree estimation, to locate conflicting topological signal. We then use the unifying principle of the anomaly zone, together with estimates of ancestral population sizes and species persistence times, to determine whether the observed phylogenetic conflict is a result of the anomaly zone. We identify at least three regions of the Scindidae phylogeny that provide demographic signatures consistent with the anomaly zone, and this new information helps reconcile the phylogenetic conflict in previously published studies on these lizards. The anomaly zone presents a real problem in phylogenetics, and our new framework for identifying anomalous relationships will help empiricists leverage their resources appropriately for overcoming this challenge.