The effect of non-reversibility on inferring rooted phylogenies

S. Cherlin, T. M. W. Nye, R. J. Boys, S. E. Heaps, T. A. Williams, T. M. Embley

(Submitted on 29 May 2015)

Most phylogenetic models assume that the evolutionary process is stationary and reversible. As a result, the root of the tree cannot be inferred as part of the analysis because the likelihood of the data does not depend on the position of the root. Yet defining the root of a phylogenetic tree is a key component of phylogenetic inference because it provides a point of reference for polarising ancestor/descendant relationships and therefore interpreting the tree. In this paper we investigate the effect of relaxing the reversibility assumption and allowing the position of the root to be another unknown quantity in the model. We propose two hierarchical models which are centred on a reversible model but perturbed to allow non-reversibility. The models differ in the degree of structure imposed on the perturbations. The analysis is performed in the Bayesian framework using Markov chain Monte Carlo methods. We illustrate the performance of the two non-reversible models in analyses of simulated datasets using two types of topological priors. We then apply the models to a real biological dataset, the radiation of polyploid yeasts, for which there is a robust biological opinion about the root position. Finally we apply the models to a second biological dataset for which the rooted tree is controversial: the ribosomal tree of life. We compare the two non-reversible models and conclude that both are useful in inferring the position of the root from real biological datasets.